Trust. Faith. Belief.
Those are words we should be able to use to describe the criminal justice system here in Solano County. We should be able to trust that various players in our legal system are abiding by the rules, that they are doing everything in their power to ensure that justice is served on our behalf.
My trust, my faith, my belief in the system is shaken.
You’re likely aware by now of the situation surrounding Solano County autopsies and how a once-secret investigation by the Sheriff’s Office into its now-former pathologist, Dr. Susan Hogan, is spilling into the courts as defense attorneys in various homicide cases clamor for the latest information.
That’s the situation that’s playing out in one case in particular, the case of a man accused of killing a woman in Vallejo. There’s an ongoing hearing taking place in that case, but it’s only loosely based in Hogan’s work on the woman’s autopsy.
I wrote in this space Sunday about the underlying autopsy controversy and harkened back to a similar situation with Hogan’s immediate predecessor. That situation gave Solano County a black eye on national television.
As if the questionable credibility of autopsies isn’t enough, now we have a situation where prosecutors stand accused of failing to disclose relevant information to defense attorneys. That’s really the focus of the current criminal courts circus, with Judge Daniel Healy serving as ringmaster in his Vallejo court.
Healy ordered county attorneys to give him everything they had concerning the autopsy of the victim in the Vallejo case. That included information about the investigation into Hogan’s autopsies. The county produced something like 1,000 pages of documents that the judge reviewed before ordering that material be turned over to prosecutors and defense attorneys.
Testimony during a hearing last week revealed there was more. Hogan said she made handwritten notes and diagrams during the woman’s autopsy. Those were not included in the original stack of paperwork reviewed by the judge. Miraculously, 49 pages of additional material was given to the judge the next day. It’s fair to say the response of the judge was none-too-flattering.
We also learned last week that prosecutors delegated to county counsel the task of determining what information should be shared with defense attorneys in specific cases, even though that task is the responsibility of the District Attorney’s Office.
Thus far, Sheriff Thomas Ferrara has testified. A top prosecutor has testified. An attorney for the county has testified. Testimony of two attorneys, one a prosecutor and one who works for county counsel, centered on a critical meeting between the attorneys and the district attorney. Their testimony does not mesh. At best, someone was misremembering the facts. At worst, someone was not truthful in their testimony. The only other person involved in that meeting – the district attorney – has not testified. He declined a request by reporter Jess Sullivan to shed light on the discrepancy.
Against this backdrop is a request by prosecutors that Healy remove himself from the underlying Vallejo homicide case. It seems they do not appreciate the fact that Healy is exposing the county’s dirty laundry. At least that’s how it looks. The judge declined. Prosecutors appealed the decision. The Court of Appeal on Friday ordered that the hearing be delayed so defense attorneys can share their thoughts with the Court of Appeal. That will happen this week.
Let’s assume the Court of Appeal allows Healy to continue as judge.
Defense attorneys want the homicide case against their client tossed aside based on the actions – or in this case inactions – of prosecutors. That’s not likely to happen. The defense team will get a delay in the trial that was scheduled to start this week, to provide time to review all of the recently produced evidence that may be relevant to their case.
I predict the judge – even if it’s not Healy – will come down hard on prosecutors for their failure to provide the relevant information about Hogan to defense attorneys, and for delegating a portion of their duties to county counsel. I suspect the judge will also have unkind words for the sheriff and county counsel for their roles in the current kerfuffle.
Reach Managing Editor Glen Faison at 427-6925 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GlenFaison.