PENSACOLA — The first meeting of a search committee looking for a replacement for the medical examiner serving Florida's First Judicial Circuit, covering Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties, is set for next month.

In a Monday news release, State Attorney Bill Eddins announced that the first meeting of the Medical Examiners Search Committee will be held at 2 p.m. July 17 in the Multimedia Room on the first floor of the M.C. Blanchard Judicial Center at 190 W. Government St. in Pensacola. The meeting is the first step in the process for recommending a replacement for Dr. Andrea Minyard to Gov. Ron DeSantis for appointment as the First Judicial Circuit's chief medical examiner.

In January, the state's Medical Examiners Commission voted overwhelmingly not to forward a request for Minyard's reappointment to DeSantis. The commission is a group of nine people comprising representatives of the state attorney general's office, the state health secretary's office, and seven gubernatorial appointees — two active district medical examiners, a state attorney, a sheriff, a county commissioner, a licensed funeral director and a public defender.

Thus far, according to Eddins, even though the open position has been widely advertised, no applications have been received. In materials included with the news release, Eddins blamed the lack of applicants on "issues between the counties and the current medical examiner" and the advertisements' "lack of a stated salary range."

The issues between Minyard and First Judicial Circuit county officials include a lawsuit involving all four counties filed after Minyard failed to disclose financial records for the district medical examiner's office. Minyard, the district's medical examiner since 2004, has faced criticism from county officials regarding alleged slow turn-around for autopsies, high operating costs and questions regarding the office's financial activity.

Additionally, the sheriffs of Okaloosa and Walton counties have contended that, as the easternmost counties in the district, they receive considerably less attention than Santa Rosa and Escambia counties. The district medical examiner is headquartered in Pensacola in Escambia County, and Santa Rosa County is immediately adjacent to Santa Rosa County.

Minyard is continuing to serve as medical examiner in an interim capacity. In a Monday interview, Eddins praised her and the leadership in the four affected counties for continuing to work together to ensure that medical examiner services remain available to district residents.

But Eddins also noted that the ongoing litigation represents a serious challenge to finding a new medical examiner.

"I urge the counties and the medical examiner to make every effort to resolve this litigation," Eddins pleaded Monday.

The January decision by the Medical Examiners Commission not to recommend Minyard for reappointment started a six-month clock for getting a new medical examiner in place. But the complication represented by the ongoing litigation prompted Eddins to seek, and receive, a 90-day extension for bringing a new medical examiner to Northwest Florida. It is possible, Eddins said, that he may have to seek an additional 90-day extension.

Okaloosa County Sheriff Larry Ashley is the lone sheriff on the 18-member committee searching for a replacement for Minyard. Also on the committee are Pensacola Police Chief Tommy Lyter, the four counties' top administrators, their counsel and their county commission chairs, as well as the chair of the state's Medical Examiners Commission, along with Dr. Kevin Jones, a Pensacola physician and Mike Atwood, a Pensacola funeral director.

Eddins' Monday news release included a letter he sent to search committee members in which he urged the counties to set a salary range for the medical examiner's position. "It's a very cumbersome process when you have four counties involved," Eddins said in the Monday interview. 

Eddins' letter also included a number of attachments for committee members to review, including medical examiner salaries and office operating budgets from around the state and an example of a contract for medical examiner services.