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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

DA's Office to Comply with Judges' Orders Unsealing Secret Crime Lab Memo

Posted By on Tue, Nov 1, 2011 at 2:11 PM

Rockne Harmon
  • Rockne Harmon

A spokesperson for San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón said this afternoon that the DA's office will obey an appellate court's ruling that prosecutors disclose a potentially damaging memo on problems with DNA-testing procedures at the San Francisco Police Department crime lab.

DA's office communications director Stephanie Ong Stillman said prosecutors do not plan to appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court. "We do intend to comply with the court's order, and are waiting for the court's instructions on how to comply," she said.

Prosecutors have been fighting the release of the memo, whose full contents have never been made public, since SF Weekly first reported on its existence 10 months ago. It was authored by Rockne Harmon, a veteran prosecutor who worked as a consultant on DNA evidence for former DA Kamala Harris, and is believed to be critical of the supervisor of the crime lab's DNA section.

As we reported in a cover story in August, Harmon asserts the memo was circulated among top officials in both the DA's office and SFPD, and that it contained information that might help criminal defendants' cases. (Prosecutors are constitutionally obligated to disclose such evidence.) Yet it was withheld from both defense lawyers and visiting state and national auditors whose job it was to certify the crime lab's methods.

After taking testimony from Harmon during a closed court session last month, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Charles Haines ruled that the memo contained exculpatory evidence that should be shared with defense lawyers in a murder case. The DA's office appealed the decision, but a panel of three state appellate judges unanimously upheld Haines' decision on Friday.

It is still unclear whether the memo, along with a transcript of Harmon's testimony before Harmon, will be released into the public record or to defense attorneys under a protective order. Stillman said she could not comment on whether the DA's office would voluntarily make the memo public, regardless of the court proceedings.

The memo has become an issue in the DA's race, with Gascón's opponents calling for its release and accusing the interim DA of a lack of transparency on the issue.

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