VALLEJO — A top attorney for Solano County took the witness stand Friday and described a very different version of a brief 2013 conversation than the version testified to Wednesday by one of District Attorney Donald A. du Bain’s chief deputy prosecutors, Jeff Kauffman.
The contradictory accounts cast blame on each other for who is responsible for the current coroner controversy that affects dozens of homicide cases. Prosecutors blame county lawyers and county lawyers say du Bain and Kauffman dropped the ball.
A county attorney, Azniv “Azi” Darbinian, testified that du Bain called her Oct. 10, 2013, and wanted to meet with her to discuss a completed investigation into the competency of Dr. Susan Hogan, the doctor who since 2008 performed almost all autopsies for the Solano County Sheriff-Coroner’s Office.
Du Bain went to Darbinian’s office, where they set up a telephone conference call with Kauffman. The subject of the conversation was their effort to figure what details of the investigation would need to be shared with defense attorneys in upcoming homicide cases in order to comply with legal requirements commonly referred to as Brady law. The meeting came after Darbinian said she would be unable to attend a larger meeting covering the same subject scheduled for later in the day.
Kauffman testified Wednesday about the conversation. His description of the circumstances of the three-person conversation was the same as Darbinian’s. Their accounts part company when they testified about what was said.
Kauffman testified that du Bain asked Darbinian if there were any Brady issues they would need to share with defense lawyers. Darbinian told du Bain “No,” then du Bain asked her, “Are you sure?” and she said “Yes.” Du Bain then canceled the larger meeting, Kauffman testified.
Darbinian disputes Kauffman’s account.
“I never told them there were no Brady issues to disclose,” Darbinian testified.
Darbinian testified that du Bain said he was going to cancel the larger meeting and then told Kauffman, “I will let you and Azi work out the Brady issues.” Darbinian testified she received an email from du Bain later in the day confirming that she and Kauffman would work it out.
Darbinian testified that the next time she heard from Kauffman or du Bain on the subject was more than two months later when Kauffman sent her an email Jan. 14 to follow-up on the Brady issue after Hogan had sent a prosecutor an email saying she had been fired.
The Sheriff’s Office had previously portrayed Hogan’s departure as a retirement.
In another email, Kauffman asked whether Hogan’s contract had just not been renewed, which Darbinian responded to by saying Hogan had been a county employee.
Darbinian provided copies of the emails for the court.
The Daily Republic asked du Bain on Friday to share his recollection of the conference call.
“I would welcome the opportunity to comment on my recollection of events, but my ethical duties prevent me from commenting on evidence during the course of a court hearing that has not yet been concluded,” du Bain said in an email. “My emails related to those events would also constitute evidence and, therefore, may only be released during the course of the hearing itself while it is still in progress.”
The investigation into the competency of Hogan was prompted by complaints from du Bain and some of his top prosecutors. Du Bain, his three chief deputies, all the top prosecutors in their Vallejo office and several prosecutors in the Fairfield office knew for months about the Hogan situation and the months-long secret investigation. None of them told any defense attorneys what was going on.
Between the October teleconference and the January emails, a probable cause hearing took place for Michael Daniels, who is accused of suffocating his girlfriend in a Vallejo motel room.
Daniels’ defense team claims if they had known about Hogan being fired and the secret investigation, a judge would never have ordered Daniels to stand trial because the evidence points to the possibility the girlfriend had passed out after drinking heavily and before suffocating on her own vomit. Defense attorneys accuse prosecutors of hiding the details about Hogan, saying it amounts to outrageous conduct that should result in murder charges being thrown out.
Judge Daniel Healy last month ordered more than 1,000 pages of county documents about the investigation and termination of Hogan be made available to defense attorneys and prosecutors. Witness testimony about those documents and Hogan’s termination got underway Tuesday after Healy rejected a prosecution effort to have him removed from the case.
Before Darbinian testified Friday, prosecutors said they had renewed their effort to remove Healy by appealing his ruling with the Court of Appeal. Friday afternoon, the Court of Appeal ordered the hearing to be put on hold, asking defense attorneys to respond to the prosecution effort by Thursday.
Reach Jess Sullivan at 427-6919 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jsullivandr.
On Oct. 10, 2013, District Attorney Donald A. du Bain sent Assistant County Counsel Azniv Darbinian an email which he copied to Undersheriff Gary Elliott Jr. and to his three chief deputies, Jeff Kauffman, Terry Ray and John Dougherty:
On Jan. 14, 2014, Kauffman sent an email to Darbinian:
On Jan. 14, 2014, Darbinian responded to Kauffman:
On Jan. 14, 2014, Kauffman responded to Darbinian: