Policy on expert witnesses lacking 

The District Attorney’s Office had no formal policy regarding releasing the criminal history of its expert witnesses to the defense, prosecutors told a judge Thursday.

That information will be used to challenge evidence in a trial. The admission came as Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo is creating a framework for hundreds of future drug cases that could be revisited after a debacle at the San Francisco Police Department’s crime lab that became public March 9.

Documents released this week show top narcotics prosecutor Sharon Woo complained to her superiors in November of “disturbing” problems with the attendance of longtime lab technician Deborah Madden. While the chief attorney in the office, Russ Giuntini, relayed a message of concern to police, it did not include Madden’s name.

On Thursday, Massullo ordered the release of more documents to defense attorneys related to the Police Department’s investigation into Madden, who is suspected of taking cocaine from evidence samples at the crime lab.

Massullo also pressed Woo for District Attorney Kamala Harris’ policy on notifying defense attorneys of the criminal history of a witness.

In 2008, Madden was convicted in San Mateo County on a count of misdemeanor domestic violence for throwing a cordless phone at her domestic partner’s head. Despite the conviction and a subsequent internal investigation, the Police Department never informed the District Attorney’s Office, which it’s required to do under California law.

“I don’t believe there is a written policy,” Woo said. “There is no written procedure. Our policy is to follow the law.”

The District Attorney’s Office relies on the Police Department to provide information about one of its employees, Woo said.

“Saying we rely on the police to tell us really isn’t [sufficient] under this court’s eyes,” Massullo said.

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Brent Begin

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Sunday, Jan 25, 2015

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