Lab Chief's Fraud Casts Doubt on Blood Test Results in DUI Cases
Originally published Tuesday, May 25, 2010 at 9:12 PM
Toxicologist's Washington history may taint new cases in California
A San Francisco coroner's supervising toxicologist vouched for blood-test results in drunken-driving cases for two years before prosecutors told defense attorneys that a Washington state court had labeled her as a "perpetrator of fraud" while running that state's toxicology lab.
By Jaxon Van Derbeken
San Francisco Chronicle
SAN FRANCISCO — A San Francisco coroner's supervising toxicologist vouched for blood-test results in drunken-driving cases for two years before prosecutors told defense attorneys that a Washington state court had labeled her a "perpetrator of fraud" while running that state's toxicology lab.
The failure to tell defense attorneys about Ann Marie Gordon's past problems could prove costly to San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris' office.
From 1999 to 2007, Gordon ran the Washington state toxicology lab, whose main job was to analyze tests in drunken-driving cases. The lab was shut down after state agencies discovered that Gordon had vouched in court for the reliability of alcohol-detection equipment when she had not performed the tests herself.
In San Francisco, Gordon has signed sworn statements verifying hundreds of blood-test results, mostly in drunken-driving cases, as a $105,000-a-year supervising forensic toxicologist in the San Francisco chief medical examiner's office since being hired in 2008. She has also testified in trials.
Prosecutors say they were unaware of her Washington history until April.
"As soon as we learned about it, we acted immediately, and we disclosed the information in the relevant cases," said Erica Derryck, spokeswoman for the San Francisco District Attorney's Office.
In Washington, about 100 criminal cases were dismissed after the problems at the state lab came to light, and Gordon quit her job in July 2007. She twice asserted her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself during court hearings.
In San Francisco, the first defense attorney to be told of her history promptly confronted her about it last week during a drunken-driving trial. The jury took 40 minutes to return with a verdict of not guilty.
Gordon, who declined to comment for this story, was never charged criminally in Washington. KingCounty prosecutors said in November 2007 that she may have been "sloppy" in signing forms, but that no harm had come from it because none of the tests was found to be inaccurate.
Two months later, however, a panel of three KingCounty judges concluded that Gordon had been a "perpetrator of fraud" and made "ethical compromises."
The judges also found that a "multiplicity of errors" at the lab, including how breath-test results were analyzed and verified, had affected thousands of cases in recent years.