VALLEJO — Solano County District Attorney Donald A. du Bain announced his re-election bid last week, touting as a major accomplishment his implementing a “rigorous” new policy with all local enforcement agencies in 2012 that he labeled the “gold standard” of policies.
Testimony concerning evidence procedures Wednesday revealed that policy is what caused a huge mistake that is affecting dozens of murder cases throughout the county.
Du Bain’s “gold standard” complies with state law, often referred to as Brady law, which requires prosecutors to provide all information and evidence in criminal cases to defense attorneys as soon as they find out about it.
The hearing in Vallejo, which began Tuesday, is focused on why prosecutors did not provide copies of more than 1,000 pages of documents in a murder case involving a woman found dead in a Vallejo motel in 2012. Her boyfriend, Michael Daniels, is set to stand trial for murder next week. The documents involve Dr. Susan Hogan, who did the autopsy on the woman.
Hogan was the subject of a secret internal investigation last year into her autopsies that resulted in her being fired.
Judge Daniel Healy on Wednesday renewed what he called “a colossal issue” discovered Tuesday while Hogan was testifying at the hearing. She said she had handwritten notes and diagrams from the woman’s autopsy that were put into a case file. That was news to Healy and to prosecutors and defense attorneys.
County counsel on Wednesday turned over to Healy 49 pages of new documents about the victim, documents that were kept in an autopsy file.
“How could this have not been handed over initially?” Healy asked aloud. “I am so stunned I am beyond words to be getting this now.”
Chief Deputy District Attorney Jeff Kauffman testified Wednesday that shortly after Hogan’s firing, du Bain arranged for a meeting in October 2013. His top staff, top Sheriff’s Office officials and lawyers for the county in the County Counsel’s Office were to meet and talk about the impact of Hogan’s firing and to review whatever documents needed to be provided to defense attorneys if Hogan did the autopsy.
“Our policy is to rely on county counsel to turn over any material,” Kauffman testified, adding that, yes, the policy delegates authority belonging legally to prosecutors to another agency.
The day of the scheduled meeting, du Bain had a brief speakerphone conference with Kauffman and a top attorney in the County Counsel’s Office who represents the Sheriff-Coroner’s Office. That attorney told du Bain and Kauffman that there were no documents about Hogan that needed to be shared with defense attorneys. The meeting was canceled.
Healy reviewed the Hogan documents a few weeks ago and ordered more than 1,000 pages of them be shared with defense attorneys. Several other Solano County judges have recently made similar reviews in other pending murder cases and have ordered hundred of pages of documents be shared with defense attorneys.
“If this is the gold standard then God help us all,” Healy said.
Healy has repeatedly pointed out that ultimately it is the district attorney’s responsibility to comply with the Brady law and that it does not matter if failing to do that is intentional versus being uninformed.
“The root of the problem is that there was a systematic failure to install and properly address problems with the policy,” Healy said. “There was also a failure at intelligently assessing what to do when problems arose.”
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.
That changed in September 2013 when defense attorneys in the Genelle Conway-Allen murder case were given a copy of an email Hogan sent a prosecutor seven months earlier, claiming the 13-year-old girl’s strangulation death may have been accidental and during consensual sex.
The hearing has been attended by several defense attorneys who have pending cases in which Hogan conducted the autopsies. Many of those attorneys are expected to be in court Friday when Healy will rule on a request by defense attorneys to throw out a murder charge against Daniels for what they have labeled “outrageous government conduct.”
Reach Jess Sullivan at 427-6919 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jsullivandr.