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Atlanta-The Georgia Crime Lab may have botched tests on more than 18,000 blood samples in 2001 and 2002, according to suit filed recently in Fulton County, Ga. Cumming, Ga., resident Richard Kjellsen is the first plaintiff in what lawyers Billy L. Spruell and Douglas W. “Gus” McDonald Jr. hope will become a class action against Georgia Bureau of Investigation officials, alleging that the state suppressed reports that the lab’s blood testing equipment occasionally swapped samples. The lawyers allege that faulty testing by the Agilent Technologies 6850 Headspace Gas Chromatograph, a machine that tests blood samples, caused some guilty parties to go free and some innocent people to be convicted of driving under the influence. The lab uses the machine for a variety of tests, including those for blood alcohol content and illegal drugs. Spruell of Spruell Taylor & Associates, and McDonald of McDonald & Cody, said they intend to seek at least $1,000 per plaintiff, and they have more than 30 potential claimants as of the end of last week. Spruell and McDonald said the class could be as large as 18,000. In addition to damages, they said, they want assurance from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation that the agency has repaired the toxicology machines, that any cases that may have been affected will be reopened and that the bureau will alert the public if the system malfunctions in the future. At the time of the malfunctions, Spruell said, the lab told no one about the problem. Kjellsen v. Mills, No. 2003CV74538 (Fulton Co., Ga., Super. Ct. Aug. 28, 2003). Spruell and McDonald suspect that the alleged errors may have affected thousands of people whose blood the crime lab tested over two years, but Public Affairs Director John Bankhead of the bureau doubts the problem was even remotely that large. “That lawsuit’s kind of far-fetched,” he said. “It’s based on two isolated incidents.” According to an executive summary of the agency’s internal investigation into problems with the machines, which the Fulton County Daily Report, a sister publication of The National Law Journal, obtained through an open records request, the machines switched blood samples twice: once in October 2000 and again in October 2001. The switches resulted in four flawed reports, which the bureau identified and corrected. The machines have been fixed since, and procedures have been enacted that enable lab workers to catch test problems immediately, according to the report.

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