Sunday, May 27

Judge postpones trial decision in UCLA lab death case

The decision on whether UCLA chemistry professor Patrick Harran will go to trial regarding the death of a UCLA lab assistant in a 2008 lab fire has been postponed until February, according to Harran’s lawyer.

Sheharbano “Sheri” Sangji, a UCLA research assistant, died from burns sustained in a 2008 lab fire while not wearing the proper protective gear.

Last year, the UC Board of Regents and Harran, Sangji’s supervisor, were charged with three felony counts each of willfully violating occupational safety and health standards, according to Daily Bruin archives.

The Los Angeles district attorney dropped the charges against the regents in July as part of a plea deal, in which the regents accepted responsibility for the conditions under which the laboratory was operated. As part of the deal, the regents also said they would improve their safety regulations and establish a $500,000 scholarship in Sangji’s name.

Harran’s preliminary hearing began in November and included testimony from witnesses who said Sangji did not have the necessary skills to handle the flammable chemical that caused fatal burns on half of her body, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday.

A chemical safety consultant from San Diego and Brian Baudendistel, a senior special investigator for the state’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, were some of the other witnesses in the preliminary trial.

During a hearing on Tuesday, a Superior Court judge allowed Harran’s lawyers to submit written motions to dismiss or reduce Harran’s felony charges to misdemeanors, said Thomas O’Brien, Harran’s lawyer. If convicted, Harran could face up to four and a half years in prison, according to Daily Bruin archives.

O’Brien said he feels the delayed court date will allow both sides to sufficiently review the unique circumstances of the law, given that this is the first time in the country an academic professor has been charged in lab safety violations.

The judge is expected to make her decision on Feb. 15, O’Brien said.

Compiled by Erin Donnelly, Bruin senior staff.

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