San Francisco Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo once again put the screws to the district attorney’s office today in an ongoing discovery hearing over the San Francisco crime lab’s tainted evidence scandal.
The judge was annoyed that the DA’s office hadn’t submitted a declaration answering whether the office routinely checks whether police witnesses (both cops and non-peace-officer employees of the department) have any convictions the defense should know about.
Massullo’s line of questioning pertains to a 2008 San Mateo County misdemeanor domestic violence conviction of Deborah Madden, a former criminalist at the center of the scandal. The judge’s questions fell to Sharon Woo, narcotics chief for the DA, who was again in the hot seat in Department 25 at the Hall of Justice.“It comes down to this, and it’s pretty simple,” Massullo said, laying out that it’s “the people’s burden” to determine if a witness has suffered a conviction that could imply moral turpitude, and the DA’s job to inform the defense of any such conviction.
The court is aware that the DA’s office runs background checks on lay witnesses, she continued. “Do you do the same for police officers and lab criminalists?”
“No,” Woo replied. “Generally we rely on the police department to inform us of that information.”
Massullo wasn’t pleased. “Saying ‘We rely on the police to tell us’ really is not sufficient in this court’s eyes,” she said.
After lots more back-and-forth, she said: “Is there a procedure or isn’t there?” Then she softened toward Woo momentarily: “The court is very aware that you are in a difficult position,” she said. “Judges who’ve been here long before I have have great respect for you.”
Woo said the office’s policy was to follow the law but that there was no written procedure in place. She also pointed to federal cases where Madden has testified, saying the U.S. attorney’s office has told her that they were also not informed by the police department of Madden’s 2008 conviction.
“I think you’ve addressed the court – the district attorney has simply relied on the police department instead of making an affirmative inquiry,” Massullo summed up.
Woo hedged. “I don’t want to say that,” she said. “I can’t say that. It’s a case-by-case basis.”
Woo said she’d have a more comprehensive response to the judge’s question by the next discovery hearing, which was set for 1:30 on April 22.