Attorney/doctor a forensics expert for trials

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Dr. Ernest Chiodo – a 1986 alumnus of Wayne State University Law School and a 1983 alumnus of Wayne State’s School of Medicine – is working on his sixth master’s degree.

But already, the list of his educational and professional accomplishments is daunting.

He’s a physician, a lawyer, a certified industrial hygienist and a biomedical engineer, and he teaches toxic tort law as an adjunct professor at Loyola University Chicago and the John Marshall Law School in Chicago. His master’s degrees are in:

• Public health (Harvard University, 1989).
• Biomedical engineering (Wayne State, 2007).
• Biological, chemical and radiological threat response management (University of Chicago, 2009).
• Occupational and environmental health science – industrial toxicology (Wayne State, 2009).
• Economics (University of Chicago, 2011).

And the master’s degree he’s in the process of attaining is in evidence-based health care, which he’s studying at Oxford University in England.

“I have to fly back and forth,” said Chiodo, who has homes in Chicago and in Harrison Township.

The physician-attorney actively practices both medicine and law – he has offices in Clinton Township and Chicago – but his primary source of income is his work as a forensic medical expert witness for trials.

“That’s my main activity, and it’s very lucrative,” Chiodo said. “I get very involved in cases involving car crashes, and I do a lot of work with toxin exposures and mold contamination. I have a small general medicine practice, where I see people for occupational and environmental medicine consults, and I try some cases as a lawyer. I do some representation of physicians and some toxic tort cases. But most of what I do is forensics, and my legal background is invaluable. To be a really good forensic expert, you have to have a law degree or become a jailhouse lawyer.

“I’m like a medical detective. I read the files and sort things out, and I have to be able to prove it. Then, I have to go testify. There, I’m a professional punching bag.”

He laughed – something he does often – and acknowledged that he enjoys his life as a highly educated professional jack of all trades very much.

“I’m just an over-achiever,” Chiodo said. “I don’t like to golf, and I don’t pretend to like to golf. I don’t watch much TV. I decided way back when to keep my lifestyle at a reasonable level and get more skills. Part of it is that what I do is so lucrative that you don’t need to be working a zillion hours a week to make a comfortable living.”

He began his lifelong quest for “more skills” at Kalamazoo College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in health science and was allowed to start medical school at Wayne State while still a senior. When he was in medical school, he thought he might like to go to law school, too.

“I saw that health care was going to be coalescing into a small number of large health systems, that the Marcus Welby thing was not going to be a reality in the long run, and I thought if I was going to work for one large health system, I wanted to be management and not labor,” Chiodo said. “I thought knowing the law would be very helpful in administration in health care.”

Dr. Werner Spitz, the famous forensic pathologist who once served as chief medical examiner for Wayne County, unintentionally sparked Chiodo’s application to Wayne Law.

Chiodo was in his senior year of medical school and doing a rotation at the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office. He had performed an autopsy and had to present his findings to Spitz.

“I gave my long-winded spiel, and he looked at me in this angry manner and said in an angry voice, ‘I absolutely, totally disagree with everything you just said. But I really like the way you said it.’ I applied to law school the next day. I had the gift of gab. That was the one event that finally made up my mind.”

Chiodo worked at a residency in radiology at Wayne State while he went to law school nights.

“Wayne State is one hell of a good law school,” he said. “And it was affordable. It’s still affordable compared to everything else. If you can get into Wayne’s law school, you’re crazy to go anywhere else.”

After obtaining his law degree, he did an internal medicine residency.

“I practiced internal medicine for a while, and then the city of Detroit needed a medical director,” Chiodo said.

He was among about 500 doctors who applied for the job as medical director of the Detroit Health Department and manager of the city’s medical and public health services.

“You had to have more than just the average doctor’s background,” he said. “I ended up getting the job. The Coleman Young administration said to me, ‘There’s no attorney attached to the Health Department, and there are all sorts of legal issues that come up all the time – contract issues, quarantine issues.’ They said, ‘If you do the general counsel law work for the Health Department, we’ll make you the medical director.’ That’s the benefit of a law degree. It’s a very helpful background.”

He served as the city’s medical director from 1993 to 1995.

Chiodo also has served as medical director of the pension boards of the city of Lansing; as an assistant clinical professor of internal medicine, family medicine and public health at Wayne State’s School of Medicine; as president of the Michigan Industrial Hygiene Society; and as chairman of the Environmental Litigation and Administrative Practice Committee of the State Bar of Michigan.

He has written two law textbooks – “Toxic Tort: A Guide to Toxic Substances Litigation in Michigan” (2002) and “Toxic Tort: Medical and Legal Elements” (2004) – and a book called “Bioterrorism” (2013), which provides an overview of agents that may be used in acts of biological, chemical and radiological terrorism.

Chiodo said he loves teaching and has no plans to give it up.

“When you teach, you end up fine-tuning your thoughts,” he said. “When you teach, you also learn. And also, it’s a kind of immortality to at least some extent. Some of my former students 50 years from now may be telling their students or the people they’re mentoring, ‘This is what Dr. Chiodo taught me.’ ”

His advice for beginning law students interested in health law is perhaps predictable considering the source: Get more education in other fields.

“They should see if they can get some other technical background that ties in with health care – a business M.B.A., a master of public health …,” he said. “Those additional credentials are what’s going to set you apart.”