District Attorney Kamala Harris’ closest adviser, Chief Attorney Russ Giuntini, has left the District Attorney’s Office amid a growing scandal at the Police Department’s crime lab and the failure to disclose disciplinary records of witnesses.
Harris also announced the retirements of several veteran prosecutors just days after Harris won the Democratic nod for attorney general. But none was as important as Giuntini who handled the day-to-day operations of the office and was Harris’ first hire when she took over the office in 2004.
His retirement comes amid growing criticism over Harris’ handling of witnesses at trial. In a November e-mail to Giuntini, assistant District Attorney Sharon Woo raised red flags about the crime lab and criminalist Deborah Madden, who had been missing court hearings where she was supposed to testify.
Giuntini relayed concerns about the crime lab in a separate e-mail to Assistant Police Chief Kevin Cashman on Nov. 24 saying there was a shortage of analysts at the lab, impeding the District Attorney’s Office from trying cases. Giuntini's memo, however, did not mention Madden and there was no indication that any action was taken.
Revelations that Madden had been taking cocaine from evidence samples didn’t break until four months later when police Chief George Gascón shut down the lab on March 9.
Giuntini will be replaced by Assistant District Attorney David Pfeifer, who was assigned to fix the office’s Brady policy, a framework by which prosecutors provide information on misconduct from police witnesses to defense attorneys. In May, Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo slammed prosecutors for not already having a policy in place.
Woo received a promotion to head the criminal division at the department.
The other prosecutors retiring from the office are Walter Aldridge, Dennis Morris, Angela Brown, Adrian Ivancevich, Melody Schallon, Susan Eto, Richard Hechler, George Butterworth, Alan Kennedy and Robert Ring.
“Russ Giuntini is a respected prosecutor who has served Bay Area law enforcement with dedication and commitment,” Harris said in a statement. “His three decades of experience have been invaluable for our legal community. I thank him immensely for his service and friendship.”