A rear-guard legal action
Share with others:
In a case lousy with loose cadavers, it's easy to understand why a relatively mild vulgarity slipped attention.
It must be noted, however, that the 45-page indictment of former Allegheny County Medical Examiner Cyril Wecht does expend a measly paragraph on a matter I know well.
The reference is to the time in June 2000 that Dr. Wecht "used and caused to be used Allegheny County secretarial and stationary [sic] resources to prepare and mail [a letter] . . . to Mr. K. H. S.'' That letter to Keith Sueker of Penn Hills might be my favorite Wecht letter of all time, which is saying something.
First, a little background: Only a few weeks before this now federally-disapproved letter, Dr. Wecht wrote me to suggest "you and all the other editor buttock-hugging members of the Post-Gazette reporter staff most probably could not win election for block leader in the communities where you live.''
I hope I don't have to tell you, gentle reader, how untrue that is. I could not conceive of any of my colleagues hugging an editor's buttock, rather than the full buttocks, as is customary. Moreover, I was elected block leader by acclamation at a neighborhood party the very day Dr. Wecht's words appeared in the PG, and I didn't even have to tend bar that long.
Still, my column on Dr. Wecht's missive inspired Mr. Sueker, then 74, to write a letter to the editor needling the cantankerous coroner for "his towering ego, vitriolic attacks, fierce rages and general pomposity . . . I don't believe that any comic writer could fashion such a completely absurd figure.''
Mr. Sueker's letter angered Dr. Wecht enough to search out the man's home address and compose this gem on county stationery:
"When I am testifying as an expert witness in major cases around the country; appearing on national television and radio shows; lecturing at major universities; writing books; accepting honors and accolades from various organizations; and making a hell of a lot of money, I have found that I am able to enhance and sustain the substantial pleasures and great joy that accompany such endeavors and accomplishments by thinking of insignificant assholes like you.''
"Cyril H. Wecht, M.D., J.D.''
That man is one sardonic sawbones.
Mr. Sueker, who is "only 80'' and still working as a consulting engineer, has the letter framed in his office along with one that James Roddey, then the county chief executive, wrote telling Mr. Sueker his wit qualified him as a "significant citizen.'' Nice, but it's clearly second fiddle.
"It isn't that often that you get called an 'insignificant asshole' by a big famous man,'' Mr. Sueker said.
As much as Mr. Sueker prizes the correspondence, he finds its inclusion in the Wecht indictment "kind of chicken.'' He said an agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation called to ask him about the letter about three weeks before the indictment.
"It seems like an awfully shallow thing to nail the fellow on,'' Mr. Sueker said.
Actually, he used a slightly more colorful word than "fellow,'' but I don't want to risk using it until it appears on official county stationery.
Anyway, I agree with Mr. Sueker. Dr. Wecht's goofball moment doesn't belong among the more serious charges in the indictment. Dr. Wecht is accused of running his multimillion pathology business out of the county coroner's office and trading the county's cadavers for lab space at Carlow University.
A cadaver can run you two or three grand. Just try pricing them sometime. But one piece of county stationery and 10 minutes of secretarial time? Why make a federal case of that? It's as if the reference is for comic effect.
As a columnist, I appreciate that. As a taxpayer, I wonder if having an FBI agent contact Mr. Sueker is any better use of our money than having a county secretary do so.
U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan has declined further comment.
Dr. Wecht's attorney, Mark Rush, said, "Many references to events that are included in the indictment are there solely to unfairly prejudice the public against Dr. Wecht, and we intend to take up these matters with the court.''
The a-word in question now is Dr. Wecht's arraignment, scheduled for Feb. 10. Nobody calls that insignificant.
First Published February 2, 2006 12:00 am