Chemistry professor Patrick G. Harran will face trial on three felony counts of violating California state labor code, a Los Angeles County judge ruled today. The case stems from a 2008 fire in Harran’s lab that led to the death of research assistant Sheharbano (Sheri) Sangji.
A trial date has not been set.
Defense attorneys for Harran, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, had moved to dismiss or reduce the charges.
The judge’s decision concludes a preliminary hearing that began in November 2012. When 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 misdemeanor offenses. The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office argued to try the case on the felony charges.
In court today, Judge Lisa B. Lench heard brief oral arguments from both sides, first on the issue to dismiss and then on the motion to reduce charges. She commented that the issues presented in the case were interesting and novel. She also said that Harran was unique compared with the usual defendants moving through the criminal justice system.
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.”
Thomas P. O’Brien, Harran’s attorney, said his team will vindicate Harran.
The judge scheduled an arraignment on the felony charges against Harran for May 9.