VALLEJO — A judge blasted the Solano County District Attorney’s Office on Monday in a scathing 37-page ruling, then ruled that a murder trial will go forward after denying a defense effort to throw out the case because of prosecutorial misconduct.
Judge Daniel Healy repeatedly used the word “absurd” in describing claims and arguments made by prosecutors in recent weeks as they explained why and how they did not share with defense attorneys hundreds of pages of documents about several homicide autopsies, including documents related to a secret investigation into the competency of Dr. Susan Hogan, who did the autopsies, and her abrupt firing in October 2013.
Healy described what the District Attorney’s and Sheriff-Coroner’s offices did as an “epic” mishandling, saying their “blundering” was “undermining confidence in the criminal justice system and potentially costing the taxpayers substantial sums.”
“Their abject failure to adequately handle and disclose these materials is troubling, and their public effort to blame each other for what was a joint obligation is nothing short of disgraceful,” Healy wrote.
Defense attorneys for Michael Daniels only learned recently about the documents that could offer evidence of mistakes or inadequate efforts in dozens of Solano County autopsies, including the autopsy of Daniels’ ex-girlfriend, who he is accused of suffocating in a Vallejo motel room in August 2012.
“The prosecution is deluding itself when it suggests defense (attorneys) trying to expose the (evidence) problems are just a ‘weak attempt to cobble together unrelated facts to manufacture what would be a rather bizarre conspiracy,’ ” Healy wrote.
Healy was referring to laws, often referred to as Brady laws, that require prosecutors to promptly share with defense attorneys any evidence that is discovered that might point toward the innocence of the accused.
District Attorney Donald A. du Bain touts his Brady policies as being a “gold standard.” Healy disagreed.
“The prosecution does nothing but reveal its own obliviousness to its obligations under the law. (A) policy has no value when prosecution’s deeds do not match its words. The defense in this case, other cases, this court and the public at large all deserve better,” Healy wrote.
“. . . (T)he problems at issue did not arise as a result of this laudable ‘Brady policy,’ ” Healy wrote, “but instead by a systematic failure on the part of the responsible government agencies to execute those policies effectively.”
Healy said du Bain was right to call for a meeting with Sheriff’s Office officials shortly after Hogan was fired to figure out the impact it would have on homicide cases, but that positive note was short-lived in his ruling.
“The undisputed evidence, unfortunately for all involved, established that after this initial burst of rationality, the prosecution and the sheriff completely failed to act for the next four months, taking no meaningful action regarding the Hogan report materials,” Healy wrote. “. . . It does not appear to this day that those offices recognize or assume any responsibility for their mishandling of these issues.”
Du Bain has repeatedly, and as recently as Monday, declined to comment on the controversy, saying it would be unethical to comment on pending cases.
Prosecutors previously blamed county counsel for the mishandling the policy.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Jeff Kauffman testified under oath that a county attorney told du Bain there was nothing about Hogan to share with defense attorneys. The county attorney followed Kauffman on the witness stand and denied Kauffman’s version of what was said in a meeting and then showed an email from du Bain sent after the meeting that confirmed her version of the facts.
Healy labeled Kauffman’s testimony as “false,” but stopped short of labeling it perjury.
“. . . (T)he prosecution’s effort to absolve itself of responsibility by blaming others is clearly erroneous,” Healy said.
Healy also criticized prosecutors for not revealing a Jan. 10, 2013, meeting Hogan had with authorities about the autopsy in the Daniels case. Healy concluded that “three deputy district attorneys and two police officers, all advocating for a position contrary to Dr. Hogan’s, in and of itself suggests an effort to intimidate, regardless of who organized the meeting.”
“The fact that not one of these five persons have any forensic medical training but nonetheless are trying to convince a doctor to change her mind about forensic evidence, is in and of itself both troubling and absurd.”
Prosecutor Andrew Ganz said he did not share details of the meeting because it offered “nothing new” despite the fact that Hogan had given specific, additional forensic information she used to bolster her conclusion that the death in the Daniels case was not a homicide. Healy wrote that Ganz’s “nothing new” characterization should be embarrassing.
Healy also ripped Ganz for not recognizing the legal need to share details of the meeting, saying Ganz’s thinking “suggests a prosecutorial attitude either incapable or disinterested in maintaining the minimum ethical standards that all prosecutors are sworn to uphold.”
Healy’s ruling also criticized a bigger organizational issue about the mindset law enforcement officials shared in dealing with Hogan. Healy said the Hogan report was lacking any objective scientific analysis.
“It simply concludes that Dr. Hogan has erred when her findings are not supportive of the wishes of prosecutors or police,” Healy wrote. “Rather than submit the dispute to a qualified third party to assess the dispute, the sheriff simply chose to accept as true the version more favorable to a prosecution theory. . . . Nowhere . . . is there any concern voiced about the need for Dr. Hogan to be ‘independent from . . . law enforcement and prosecutors’ with the goal of producing a ‘neutral and objective medical . . . cause and manner of death.’ ”
Healy ended his ruling by pointing out that the impact and significance of the prosecution failure remains unclear.
Reach Jess Sullivan at 427-6919 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jsullivandr.