Chemistry professor Patrick G. Harran will face trial on three felony counts of violating California state labor code, a Los Angeles County judge ruled on April 26. The case stems from a 2008 fire in Harran’s lab that led to the death of his research assistant Sheharbano (Sheri) Sangji.
Harran, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, is scheduled to be arraigned on the felony charges on May 9. The decision concludes a preliminary hearing that began in November 2012.
After testimony for the hearing ended in December 2012, Harran’s attorneys submitted written arguments that the charges against Harran should be dropped or lowered to misdemeanors. The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office argued to try the case on the felony charges.
The charges cite regulations involving failure to correct unsafe workplace conditions and procedures in a timely manner, failure to require work-appropriate clothing and personal protective equipment, and failure to provide chemical safety training to employees.
In court on April 26, Judge Lisa B. Lench heard brief oral arguments from both sides, first on the motion to dismiss and then on the motion to reduce charges.
After the hearing, Deputy District Attorney Craig W. Hum said the evidence against Harran was clear and he was pleased with the judge’s ruling. He added that “this is the first step on the road.”
Defense attorney Thomas P. O’Brien said his team will vindicate Harran.