San Francisco D.A. Kamala Harris addresses crime lab scandal, other topics in AG race

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At the Sacramento Press Club on Thursday, San Francisco Dist. Atty. Kamala Harris addressed the swirling scandal of a San Francisco drug lab technician, Deborah Madden, who was using the drugs she was supposed to be testing.

Madden has since been dismissed and more than 500 cases in the city have had to be dropped. Harris distanced herself from the scandal, noting that “contrary to public perception, I don’t run the crime lab,” which is operated by the Police Department.


A top aide to Harris wrote a memo describing the situation at the lab as “ridiculous” as far back as November, and that Madden herself was ‘increasingly undependable for testimony,’ the San Francisco Chronicle has reported.

A police investigation was launched in February. Harris cited that “hindsight is 20/20” in defending her office’s handling of the case. The case would have been handled differently, she intimated, “knowing what we know now” – which is that a crime lab technician was “sniffing the evidence.”

Chris Kelly, one of Harris’ Democratic opponents in the attorney general’s race, has pounded on the issue in press releases to the media. An aide to Kelly, Robin Swanson, handed out the campaign’s latest missive to reporters arriving for the luncheon speech.

Kelly, the former chief privacy officer for Facebook, has never held elective office but he plunged $8 million of his money in the race – giving him a financial edge in the six-person field. Harris generally dismissed the crime lab, and the potential for her to be tarred as a San Francisco liberal as a campaign issue. “An opponent will do what an opponent will do,” she said.

On other topics:

  • She called the AG’s post “one of the most significant posts of leadership an elected official can have in this country” and said she would heavily use the office’s “bully pulpit.” One area she would advocate for? Reinstating prison rehabilitation programs that have been slashed in recent state budgets.
  • She said she was “absolutely opposed” to the new Arizona anti-illegal immigration law, calling it “misguided and counterproductive.”
  • After a meandering answer, she said she was “not opposed” to her city’s proposed ordinance barring the homeless – or anyone else – from sitting or lying on the street. “I’d like to see it work,” Harris said.
  • She opposes the legalization of marijuana and the death penalty. But, if elected, she said she would “follow the law” in enforcing whatever the voters support.

-- Shane Goldmacher