The controversial tenure of Cynthia Burbach ended last week, when the longtime employee of Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment retired as supervisor of its toxicology lab.
News of Burbach's retirement spread quickly through Colorado's legal community. Defense attorneys such as Tim Bussey have been trying for years to mount legal challenges to Burbach's credibility as the state's key witness in DUI prosecutions. However, as Bussey notes, "The underlying circumstances as to why she retired, we'll probably never know."
What we do know is that Burbach oversaw the department last spring, when the results of hundreds of its blood alcohol tests — essential evidence in DUI cases — were thrown in to question.
As reported last fall ("Blood and circus," cover story, Nov. 7), more than 1,700 blood samples had to be re-tested after private labs confirmed some results had skewed much higher than the actual blood alcohol content.
CDPHE claimed that the faulty tests were the result of a lone technician's failure to follow protocol, and he was fired. However, Bussey and others maintained the failure was systemic.
Over recent years, attorneys have questioned Burbach's ability to run the lab. Among their concerns were Burbach's changing testimony on her educational background; her inability to secure national accreditation for the lab; and her apparent confusion of the terms "acute" and "chronic."
Gary Pirosko, a Denver-based attorney, agrees with Bussey that the reason for her retirement may remain unknown, but adds, "I think that it was just a matter of too many bad comments." Says Fort Collins attorney Sarah Schielke via email, "the bottom line is that Colorado's entire criminal justice system has benefitted and improved as a result of that woman's departure."
Blood samples from Colorado Springs had been sent to Burbach's lab since 2010. Now that appears to have changed as well: The city police department has signed a contract with the Boulder-based private firm ChemaTox Laboratory, Inc.
The contract calls for approximately 1,920 samples to be processed for up to $130,000; CSPD paid $113,000 last year to CDPHE. According to acting public information officer Larry Herbert, the state lab had failed to meet all its deadlines.
The El Paso County Sheriff's Office says it will continue to use CDPHE for its testing.
According to spokesman Mark Salley, Burbach had been with CDPHE for 30 years, the last 13 as supervisor. It's unclear, he says, whether Burbach will continue to testify in pending DUI cases.
Her old job was still posted as of press time.