By Daphne Duret
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
In a potentially precedent-setting battle over blood, the attorneys for Wellington polo mogul John Goodman have embarked on a fight that could invalidate the blood-alcohol test results in his case and countless others around the state.
Goodman’s lawyers appeared before an administrative judge in the state’s capital Tuesday for the start of a two-day hearing that pitted them against the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which sets regulations and provides DUI blood-draw kits for law enforcement agencies statewide. The defense hopes to persuade Judge William Quattlebaum that FDLE protocols in drawing and testing blood from DUI suspects like Goodman are insufficient and could produce skewed results.
If they succeed, the ruling could be used by defense attorneys to challenge DUI cases throughout the state.
Goodman, who remains on house arrest at his Wellington estate ahead of his October retrial, was absent from the hearing, as were Goodman prosecutors Al Johnson and Sherri Collins.
The state’s position was taken by FDLE legal adviser Anne Marie Johnson, who told Quattlebaum during her brief opening statement that there was no evidence to prove that the current rules produce bad results.
Attorney Brian Newman, however, raised several issues on Goodman’s behalf — including that FDLE labs don’t screen blood samples to see if they contain ruptured blood cells, something Newman argued could skew blood-alcohol results erroneously high.
“Hospitals and labs regularly screen for it,” Newman said of the rupturing, which is called hemolysis. “Why don’t forensic labs do the same?”
The challenge of FDLE protocols is a relatively new battle in Goodman’s case, which is headed for a second trial. A jury in 2012 convicted Goodman of DUI manslaughter with failure to render aid, and Chief Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath sentenced him to 16 years in prison. Colbath threw out the conviction and sentence last year because of juror misconduct.
Goodman since then tried in vain to get Colbath to throw out the results of his blood test, which placed his blood-alcohol level three hours after the crash at more than twice the level at which Florida drivers are presumed impaired.
When Goodman attorney Elizabeth Parker challenged FDLE protocols in the case and said the nurse who drew Goodman’s blood also used a too-small needle that could have skewed the results, prosecutors told Colbath the proper forum to decide such issues was Florida’s Department of Administrative Hearings. Colbath agreed.
Though Newman and Parker are handling the hearing before Quattlebaum this week, Goodman lawyers Douglas Duncan and Scott Richardson sat in the court gallery and took notes.
The bulk of the day’s testimony came from both the current and immediate past manager of FDLE’s Alcohol Testing Program Quality Assurance Division. Defense attorneys called current manager Patrick Murphy briefly, though he is expected to return today to testify as an FDLE witness.
Former program manager Laura Barfield, who left FDLE in 2013 and now works as a consultant, described several FDLE rules as insufficient, including the lack of testing for blood cell ruptures and blood clotting and a lack of a set standard regarding the temperature at which blood is tested.
If these rules were problematic, FDLE’s Johnson asked Barfield, why didn’t Barfield raise those concerns when she was head of the quality control program?
Barfield later told Newman that she lacked supreme authority to initiate such changes and was leery of a potential backlash from prosecutors and law enforcement.
The experts didn’t provide testimony specifically about blood drawn from Goodman on the night of the February 2010 crash that killed Scott Patrick Wilson. Wilson died when the impact from the Wellington crash sent his car into a canal, where he drowned.
If Quattlebaum decides the FDLE protocols are faulty, Colbath could rule that jurors in his upcoming trial won’t be able to hear testimony about the results, which could be a severe blow to the prosecution’s case.
In Goodman’s first trial, Goodman explained his blood test results by testifying that he had chugged liquor at the “man cave” of a friend after the crash to numb the pain. Testimony had indicated Goodman had been at a bar earlier, where he paid a $212 tab for himself and others.