Thursday, August 5, 2010 · by Tamara Aparton
San Francisco, CA —A court rejected a bias claim lobbed by the San Francisco District Attorney against a judge overseeing evidence issues in the crime lab scandal, ending prosecutors’ efforts to remove the judge from the case.
The San Francisco District Attorney’s office claimed San Francisco Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo could not fairly preside over narcotics cases being challenged due to possible evidence tampering because she is married to a defense attorney who handled one federal case involving the San Francisco crime lab.
In his Wednesday ruling, Monterey Superior Court Judge Thomas W. Wills wrote that Massullo’s marriage plays no role in her ability to oversee narcotics cases in which evidence may have been compromised by theft and misconduct by crime lab employees.
The San Francisco District Attorney’s office attempted to get Massullo disqualified less than a month after she issued a scathing May 17 ruling against prosecutors. In her 26-page ruling, which compelled the disclosure of crime lab-related documents in 60 narcotics cases, Massullo detailed a systematic withholding by prosecutors of evidence exposing problems in the crime lab and among SFPD employees. Defense attorneys and their clients are entitled to the material under Brady v. Maryland.
Prosecutors also claimed that Massullo’s presence on the case would help her husband gain publicity for an appearance on a legal education panel discussing the Brady law.
In his Wednesday ruling, Wills pointed out that the appearance was routine and unpaid.
The record is “devoid of evidence” that Massullo’s husband would have benefitted in any way from his wife presiding over the case, Wills wrote.
“Judge Massullo’s husband is not a witness in these proceedings; he is not appearing before her in these proceedings; he is not even appearing in the same court system where Judge Massullo presides. There is absolutely no evidence of financial gain to her or her husband,” Wills wrote.
The judge also ruled that the challenge was untimely, filed weeks after Massullo addressed the matters in court and asked prosecutors to file all challenges immediately.
Deputy Public Defender Chris Gauger, who argued in Massullo’s courtroom for prosecutors to disclose all misconduct information on SFPD employees, applauded Wills’ decision.
“I agree with and welcome the ruling,” Gauger said. “Judge Massullo was ethical in her conduct and went beyond her duty to avoid any appearance of impropriety. It is unfortunate that the process of bringing these cases to justice was sidetracked.”