This subject was covered for about 10 minutes by the national press very early in the Democrat nominating cycle, before the summer and fall Democrat candidate debates in 2019 — you know, before Harris dropped out of the race with less than 5% support notwithstanding the near-unanimous efforts of the DNCNNMSNCBABCCBSNBC to anoint her as “leader-of-the-pack.”
In 2010, while Kama-Lie-Alot was a candidate for Attorney General in the upcoming Nov. 2010 election for that office, a small problem arose back at the San Franciso District Attorney’s Office where she had been boss for over 5 years.
The San Francisco DA’s office relied on a San Francisco Crime Lab that was part of the San Francisco Police Department to do drug analysis for criminal prosecution of drug cases. The lab had three criminalists who conducted forensic testing and testified to results as expert witnesses in criminal cases. One of those three was a woman named Deborah Madden.
After a period of problematic performances in court — when she actually made it to court — in November 2009, a prosecutor working for Harris wrote an email to Harris’ Chief Deputy stating in it that Madden had become “increasingly undependable for testimony.” Harris was not copied on the email, and Harris has always maintained that she was never shown the email.
Harris’ top Deputy, Russell Giuntini, took no action based on the email.
One month later, in December 2009, Madden’s sister informed someone at the San Francisco Police Department that she found cocaine in Madden’s apartment. Madden later admitted that she had taken cocaine from work for personal use, and she was charged with possession of cocaine. She pled guilty, completed a diversion and treatment program, and her conviction was expunged.
But expunging her conviction is not the same as rewinding the calendar as if nothing had ever happened. It wasn’t until March 2010 that the District Attorney’s Office disclosed that there might be a problem with testing in a handful of cases where defendants had already been convicted because it was possible the drug samples sent to the lab were contaminated. As it turned out, more than 1000 cases would prove to be part of a set of cases handled by Madden during a time period in which the District Attorney’s Office could not establish a “chain of custody” over the drugs tested that did not involve Madden.
But that was only one part of the problem — the bigger issue was the duplicity and lack of professionalism from Harris and her office in acknowledging the problems, and informing defense counsel in cases still pending trial or on appeal that there was a problem with the admissibility of the drug evidence in the case.
Harris was, at this point, a declared candidate for California Attorney General in the upcoming November 2010 general election, with a Democrat Primary contest scheduled for June.
The issue falls squarely under the rule of Brady v. Maryland, and the related case of Giglio v. United States. In Giglio, the Supreme Court held, in 1971, that any information the government possessed with regard to the credibility of any government witness in a criminal matter must be turned over to the defense so that the information may be used during cross-examination. One of Harris’ Deputy prosecutors had reported that Madden was “undependable.” That email was relevant to credibility as it went to the question of whether a jury should be entitled to depend on Madden’s testimony at trial with regard to drug analysis.
But the information about Madden was not turned over to the defense attorneys handling the cases in which Madden had testified, or for which she was scheduled to testify after having tested the evidence for Harris’ Office.
The issue was litigated before San Francisco Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo, and came to a conclusion in May 2010, when Massullo wrote an opinion deeply critical of Harris and her office — the way they had obfuscated the issue and held back information that defendants were entitled to have.
Among the things learned during the course of the litigation was that the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office had no written policy to guide deputy prosecutors on what their obligations were under Brady and Giglio, and no guidance on how to comply with their obligations. Harris told the Court that she was working on completing a written policy at the time the problem with Madden arose — which was almost five years after she had been first elected to the position.
Massullo’s opinion stated that individuals at the very top of the District Attorney’s Office knew that Madden was “undependable” yet they allowed deputy prosecutors to continue to call her as an expert witness in drug trials, resulting in dozens of convictions, without once disclosing information they had a Constitutional obligation to disclose. One of Harris’ prosecutors told Judge Massullo that it had been explained to her that Harris’ policy was for the San Francisco Police to provide any Brady or Giglio information to defense counsel since the Crime Lab was part of the Police Department and not the District Attorney’s Office.
The Judge blamed Harris personally because Harris acknowledged that she had been working on a Brady policy herself, but the process had been bogged down over questions of access by the District Attorney’s Office to personnel files of San Francisco PD employees like Madden. Rather than resolve those questions and produce a policy, Harris had turned her attention to the race for Attorney General.
Trying to fight back with the campaign in full swing, in June 2010, Harris’ campaign issued a press statement calling Judge Massullo’s opinion “contrary to the law”, and again putting the responsibility on San Francisco PD for communicating the Giglio information to defendants and their lawyers. Harris also accused Judge Massullo of being biased because her husband was a criminal defense attorney who was often opposed by Harris’ Office.
Harris ended up winning the Democrat primary, and prevailed over GOP candidate, Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley in a very close election. Harris won with only 46% of the vote in 2010, when six other Democrats won all the statewide election contests in California — none with less than 50%.
But the episode reflected Harris’ “true colors” as a politician — say whatever you need to say at any particular moment to extricate yourself from a difficult situation.