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SF district attorney won't charge lawyer who leaked transcripts

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A defense attorney mistakenly emailed sealed court transcripts to the media while trying to send a portion of a memo. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • A defense attorney mistakenly emailed sealed court transcripts to the media while trying to send a portion of a memo.

The District Attorney’s Office withdrew its threat to charge a public defender with contempt of court on Monday after the mistaken release to the media last week of sealed court transcripts.

Defense attorney Mark Jacobs told a judge that he had been trying only to send a portion of a memo critical of the Police Department’s DNA lab to an SF Weekly reporter. Jacobs said he hadn’t realized that the sealed transcripts were also attached and was “horrified” about the accident.

“The whole thing was a perfect storm of screw-ups,” Jacobs told Judge Charles Haines.

The newspaper subsequently posted the full transcript online. It detailed a conversation between Haines and Rockne Harmon, a former DA’s Office consultant on DNA issues, during which Haines seemed to largely agree with Harmon’s concerns about work done by a DNA lab technician on a 2007 murder case.

When the DA’s Office learned of the release, it threatened to pursue contempt of court charges against Jacobs. Jacobs said that Public Defender Jeff Adachi then spoke directly with District Attorney George Gascón about the issue.

“The DA was satisfied with Mr. Jacobs’ explanation, his apology, his remorse, and with that, decided not to go ahead with the contempt hearing,” Chief Assistant District Attorney Sharon Woo told Haines Monday.

Following the closed Sept. 21 hearing between Haines and Harmon, Haines ruled that parts of Harmon’s critique, as well as the transcript of their conversation, could be released to defense attorneys as potentially exculpatory material. Jacobs was seeking the materials for possible use in the defense of his client, who is accused in a 1976 cold-case murder in which the evidence was tested by the same DNA technician.

Haines, for his part, said Monday that he would not have held Jacobs in contempt anyway.

“There’s such a thing as a mistake,” he said.

aburack@sfexaminer.com