Los Angeles County Coroner Thomas T. Noguchi has been suspended for 30 days, effective March 19, by the County Board of Supervisors.
Noguchi, who has one week to answer charges against him, immediately demanded an evaluation by seven forensic pathologists from major cities. He has been at the center of controversy for several months over his handling of celebrity death investigations.
Two months ago, the Screen Actors Guild asked the supervisors to reprimand Noguchi for releasing "gory details" about the deaths of actors William Holden and Natalie Wood in a bid for publicity.
Last week, Noguchi released no information until five days after the death of comedian John Belushi.
The charge by the actors' union came after two reports in the Los Angeles Times charged Noguchi with serious mismanagement of the coroner's office. The charges included damaging and losing evidence, not keeping track of blood samples and inadequate scientific testing.
According to the Times report, the severed hand of a woman, whose body was never found, was accidentally destroyed, and bodies were stacked, contaminating evidence.
The district attorney's office criticized Noguchi's role in the investigation of the death of Long Beach State football star Ron Settles, including loss of the shirt Settles was wearing when he died by hanging in his jail cell.
The Times reports prompted the supervisors to order an investigation, which disclosed that Noguchi used county facilities for outside consulting work, for which he earned more than $30,000 last year.
The probe also charged that Noguchi violated state codes by burying autopsy specimens in a public dump, had no formal training program for his staff and had "no standard procedures for collecting, labeling and documenting evidence."
With that report in hand, Harry L. Hufford, the county's chief administrative officer, met privately with Noguchi last Friday to seek his resignation. Noguchi refused.