SF settles with former toxicologist

  • by Alex Madison
  • Wednesday October 3, 2018
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The San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a $100,000 settlement for a lawsuit filed by the city's gay former chief toxicologist at its meeting Tuesday, October 2.

Nikolas Lemos, Ph.D., filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the city in 2017.

"We are very pleased it was approved," said Robert Nelson, Lemos' attorney, in an interview with the Bay Area Reporter. "It's a satisfactory resolution for everyone involved."

Nelson also said his client was "pleased to have this behind him," and that he is actively interviewing for jobs as a medical examiner.

As previously reported by the B.A.R., in February 2017, Lemos filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the city in San Francisco Superior Court, claiming he "begrudgingly resigned" in July 2016 after he was "instructed ... to engage in unlawful activity" by assisting "an unlicensed forensic toxicologist to illegally perform DUI alcohol testing."

That alleged unlicensed toxicologist, Luke Rodda, Ph.D., replaced Lemos in July 2016 after Lemos resigned. Rodda is still serving as chief toxicologist, according to court documents and Rodda's LinkedIn profile. The suit claims the medical examiner's office kept Rodda on staff even after it was learned that Rodda didn't meet the requirements to be certified under Title 17 of California's Code of Regulations, which addresses DUI analysis.

The medical examiner's office did not respond to the B.A.R. for a request for comment or to confirm that Rodda is a licensed forensic toxicologist.

Lemos had worked as the city's chief toxicologist since October 2003 where he conducted and supervised "testing to determine whether there were drugs or alcohol in victims of sudden, unexpected, or violent deaths, as well as in living people charged with crimes such as sexual assault and driving under the influence," Lemos' complaint states.

The city hired Rodda in May 2016. The lawsuit claims that after reviewing materials that Rodda provided that year, Lemos concluded that he "likely did not have the necessary academic and professional credentials to be certified under Title 17," the complaint says. In the court document, Title 17 is explained as requiring "technicians conducting DUI tests to have various certifications from governing boards and state departments in the areas of forensic toxicology and alcohol analysis," and that, "Only appropriately educated and certified scientists can conduct forensic alcohol testing on DUI suspects in California."

Lemos said in the filing that he notified Christopher Wirowek, the medical examiner's deputy director, who told him "not to do the job" of the state certification authorities and ordered him to nominate Rodda for certification anyway.

When the lawsuit first came to light, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi expressed concern about test results from the toxicology lab at the medical examiner's office, telling District Attorney George Gasc�n last year that he was "very concerned" that the lab wasn't complying with state regulations.

In a follow-up email sent to the B.A.R. last year, Adachi said that Chief Assistant District Attorney Sharon Woo called him and said that because "the chief toxicologist did not do any of the testing himself there is no reason to question what may have happened or the integrity of the testing."

Alex Bastian, a spokesman for Gasc�n, previously told the B.A.R. that "Dr. Rodda has not tested nor attested to any Title 17 DUI cases, and it appears as though the lab is in compliance with Title 17."

Contact the reporter at [email protected].