San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi today assailed District Attorney Kamala Harris’ announcement of a new “trial integrity unit” with claims she is withholding evidence about police misconduct from his office.
“I want to make it very clear that we are not on board with the district attorney’s plan,” Adachi said.
“Why do they need a unit to determine how to conduct trials with integrity?” he asked, asserting it was a waste of taxpayer money.
Harris announced the formation of the unit Tuesday as part of an ongoing response to scandals involving the Police Department’s crime lab and the failure to disclose prior misconduct by officers called to testify in court.
The new unit, made of up senior prosecutors, will review cases impacted by former drug lab technician Deborah Madden, who is suspected of stealing cocaine from the lab, and cases involving police officers whose prior misconduct was not disclosed to defense attorneys when they were called as witnesses. Police have not released the number of officers.
The unit is one of a series of reforms undertaken by Harris recently, including the development of a written policy to ensure that prosecutors have access to the backgrounds of law enforcement officers called to testify and that they notify defense attorneys as required by law.
The Police Department is developing a similar policy on sharing that information with prosecutors.
Adachi today asserted that Harris has rebuffed several requests he’s made for her office to turn over the names of the officers so that he can begin reviewing current cases and prior trial convictions to see if the veracity of their testimony can be challenged.
“She is putting the privacy interests of police officers who have misconduct records and who have been convicted of crimes above the rights of citizens to a fair and honest trial,” he said. “That is not something that should be happening.”
Harris spokeswoman Erica Derryck responded, “For his own personal gain, Mr. Adachi’s trying to circumvent the legal process the court uses to determine the relevance and proper release of this information.”
Derryck said it was the district attorney’s office and not the public defender that has the legal obligation to do this review.
“We are proceeding through the court, Mr. Adachi’s holding press conferences,” she said.
The district attorney’s office has said that as soon as it became aware of misconduct by law enforcement employees, it disclosed the information to defense attorneys.
The office says it is still waiting to receive the names of officers with prior disciplinary action or criminal convictions from the Police Department.
But Adachi said more could be done, citing a May 17 ruling from a superior court judge reviewing the disclosure of such evidence that there was no law preventing the district attorney’s office from obtaining the information. Adachi said his attorneys would be willing to abide by a protective order to protect the privacy of police officers from public disclosure.
“This is something that needs to be done, and it needs to be done now,” Adachi said. “We can’t wait months for this review process to take place.”
“We are the ones that have clients that have been harmed by this,” he said.
He called on Harris’ office to hand over the information to his office by July 1.
Adachi also took Harris to task for her recent unpaid appointment of San Francisco trial lawyer John Keker to advise her office on the police misconduct disclosures, noting Keker contributed $6,500 to Harris’ campaign this year for state attorney general.
Harris had said in a statement that Keker had “unimpeachable judgment and independence.”
Keker is “a good and honest person, but he is a campaign donor,” Adachi said.
Derryck today noted that in addition to his work as a defense attorney, Keker has also served as a federal prosecutor and president of the San Francisco Police Commission.
“John Keker has been on every side of police misconduct issues, and he’s uniquely qualified to advise us,” Derryck said.
Since the drug lab scandal was revealed in March, Police Chief George Gascon has ordered the lab closed and prosecutors have dismissed hundreds of cases.
Adachi said today he was unsure how many cases might be affected by the disclosure of police officer misconduct.