There's a good article from Lisa Falkenberg in today's print edition of the Chronicle regarding the ongoing dispute between the Harris County District Attorney's Office and Amanda Culbertson, formerly of the HPD Crime Lab. I will link to it when it comes online.
The long-story-short is that Harris County has apparently had a contract for twenty years with Lone Star College for the testing and maintenance of the instruments used to test breath test results. Earlier this year, Amanda Culbertson told officials that the Mobile "B.A.T. vans" that have intoxilyzers in them were not reliable, thus jeopardizing numerous DWI cases where they were used. Her findings were documented in e-mails within HPD, and defense counsel Brent Mayr had filed a Writ in March of this year alleging Brady violations for withholding that information.
Fast forward to July, when defense attorneys Dane Johnson and Jordan Lewis find themselves in trial on another B.A.T. van case, where a trial case had to be continued mid-trial when prosecutors claim that this is the first time they've heard of these allegations. As noted in the article by the Chronicle's Brian Rogers and Anita Hassan, Amanda Culbertson stated she left the HPD Crime Lab over her reports of the B.A.T. van problems and moved to Lone Star College, where she continued in her duties for a different agency. Rather than being the chemist for HPD, she is now doing it for Lone Star, which does the supervising of those intoxilyzers used by the Harris County Sheriff's Office and other county agencies.
Apparently incensed that Culbertson had called into question the H.P.D. cases, the County is now trying to suddenly cancel that contract with Lone Star. You can draw your own conclusions as to whether or not that move was in response to their new employee -- Amanda Culbertson.
As Lisa points out in the article, Lykos and Crew over at the D.A.'s Office are attempting to play the "who me?" card on what has inspired the termination of the contract, acting as if this was a move made by County Commissioners without the Office's involvement. However, this seems to fly in the face of logic under the circumstances. At the last Commissioners' Court meeting on the subject, ADA Rachel Palmer, who is the Deputy Chief of the Misdemeanor Division (which handles the vast majority of DWI cases for the Office) was in attendance when the matter was addressed.
To top things off, there have been rumblings and threats from the D.A.'s Office about looking into whether or not they could indict Culbertson for perjury.
Lisa's column is a great one, but I think we are just hitting the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this story.
Sound a little retaliatory yet?
My friend and fellow blogger, Paul Kennedy, pointed out yesterday in his blog that he was somewhat perturbed at the rush to defend Amanda Culbertson and other members of Lone Star College by the defense bar, arguing that it gave them credibility on future cases in advance. I understand his position, but I think at some point there may need to be a weighing of the evils involved here.
Defense attorneys standing up for a whistleblower witness that is risking her livelihood to testify about faulty evidence that affects hundreds of cases is the right thing to do, even if it means having to begrudgingly admit that you find her credible down the road.
The dangers of a District Attorney's Office that will literally go after that same whistleblowing witness like John Gotti after Sammy "the Bull" Gravano is a much more alarming proposition, in my opinion.