- Associated Press - Thursday, June 30, 2016

HACKENSACK, N.J. (AP) - Nearly 15,000 drug cases might have been undermined as a result of allegedly shoddy work by a forensic lab technician, according to a New Jersey judge.

Superior Court Judge Edward Jerejian held a preliminary hearing Wednesday in Bergen County to outline the process for vetting conviction challenges. Jerejian said the courts are expecting hundreds, if not thousands, of cases.

Jerejian’s order stipulates that cases involving suspended lab technician Kamal Shah will continue to be heard in their original counties. Cases where the defendant has already been convicted will be forwarded to Jerejian for review.

Shah, who worked at a state police crime lab in Little Falls, is accused of not properly conducting laboratory analyses, peer reviews or administrative reviews of drug evidence. He was suspended by the lab in January after colleagues allegedly witnessed him “dry-labbing” a drug sample, or writing a lab test without conducting an analysis.

Following Shah’s suspension, the state attorney general’s office informed county officials of his removal and recommended that they contact defense attorneys involved in cases in which Shah either conducted the drug tests himself or signed off on them as a peer-review analyst.

County prosecutors have been identifying the cases involving Shah to resubmit drug samples for re-testing. Assistant Attorney General Michael Williams said his office has re-tested 160 priority drug cases so far. None were deemed faulty.

Many defense attorneys have already filed motions to have their clients’ convictions thrown out and guilty pleas withdrawn.

Kevin Walker, a spokesman for the state’s Office of the Public Defender, said that his office has consulted with national crime lab experts and officials are considering filing a motion to challenge drug-testing protocol at the state’s police labs.

Shah’s attorney declined to comment. Shah has yet to be criminally charged.

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