San Francisco prosecutors are inviting defense attorneys to challenge more than 500 convictions that were based in part on the work of two expert witnesses - the former technician at the heart of the police drug lab scandal and a toxicology supervisor who vouched for tests in her previous job that she hadn't performed.
In separate letters being sent to defense attorneys, District Attorney Kamala Harris' prosecutors say they recently learned of problems involving retired drug lab technician Deborah Madden and toxicology lab supervisor Ann Marie Gordon that should have been revealed to lawyers before trials in which their clients were convicted.
The letters invite the defense attorneys to take whatever actions you determine to be appropriate.
The drug lab scandal has already led Harris' office to drop hundreds of cases before they came to trial. The total was 800 cases by mid-May, but despite repeated requests, Harris' office has not provided an updated tally.
Hundreds of cases
Harris' spokeswoman also did not respond to questions about how many cases the district attorney has identified in which Madden's or Gordon's credibility issues could jeopardize convictions.
But Deputy Public Defender Chris Gauger, whose office handles the majority of cases in the city's criminal courts, said the public defender has received letters from the district attorney's office about more than 500 cases involving Madden alone.
It's the minimum of what they have to do, Public Defender Jeff Adachi said, under a 1963 Supreme Court precedent requiring prosecutors to disclose witnesses' convictions or misconduct allegations if defense attorneys could use them to undermine their credibility in court.
Adachi said his office is reviewing the cases to decide which convictions to appeal.
He called the Madden letter woefully inadequate, noting that prosecutors do not mention suspicions that the former technician skimmed cocaine and other substances from the police crime lab's now-closed drug unit.
Madden has not been charged in connection with the case, but police say she has admitted to using cocaine she got from the crime lab.
The prosecutors' letter, however, says only that Harris' office recently learned that Madden was convicted in 2008 of misdemeanor domestic violence.
This goes back to the question as to whether the D.A.'s office, having been found to have withheld evidence, can now be trusted to disclose what the law requires them to, Adachi said.
Erica Derryck, Harris' spokeswoman, said Monday that the notice meets the requirements of the law and shows that the district attorney's office is dealing head on with the issues raised by the drug lab's problems.
Yet again, Mr. Adachi is focusing his efforts on doing an end run around the law, while our office works to ensure that justice is served in each and every case, Derryck said.
The Madden letter, which is signed by Harris' recently promoted lead drug prosecutor, Sharon Woo, says prosecutors are reviewing all known files/cases and telling the defense when they find one in which Madden either tested a drug sample, vouched for the result or testified in court.
The letter related to Gordon, the chief medical examiner's toxicologist, cites a finding that in her previous job as the head of Washington state's toxicology lab, she falsely certified that she had prepared and tested equipment used in drunken-driving arrests.
The district attorney recently learned of the January 2008 finding by a three-judge panel in Washington that Gordon was a perpetrator of fraud, Harris' trial integrity unit manager, Jerry Coleman, wrote in the letter.
That court found Ms. Gordon's practices to be 'disturbing,' characterizing them as 'ethical compromises' that were both 'petty' and 'alarming,' Coleman's letter notes.
The Chronicle reported last month that the coroner's office hired Gordon three months after the Washington judges issued their findings. She vouched for blood alcohol analysis results in San Francisco for two years before prosecutors discovered her history in April.
Gordon was never charged with a crime by prosecutors in King County, where the Washington toxicology lab was located. They said in 2007 that Gordon may have been sloppy, but that there was no point in prosecuting her because she had already left the lab and because her false statements could have been unintended and apparently had not led to any wrongful convictions.
Stephen Gelman, administrator of the San Francisco chief medical examiner's office, would not say whether Gordon is still overseeing casework in the city, calling that a personnel matter. He would say only that Gordon still has the title of manager and supervising forensic toxicologist.
Gelman has not said whether his office knew of Gordon's history when she was hired. Gordon has declined to comment, and Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Amy Hart referred questions to Gelman.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010