Thursday, July 5, 2001
C.A. Delays Sara Jane Olson Trial to Allow Defense More Time
By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer
This district’s Court of Appeal on Tuesday ordered a Los Angeles judge to grant Sara Jane Olson’s request to delay her trial until Sept. 24 on charges she conspired to bomb police cars in 1975.
The Second District Court of Appeal ruled that the extra time was warranted because several of Olson’s lawyers had left the case and the new ones needed time to get caught up. The court also noted that prosecutors have delayed in turning over key documents to the defense.
The trial of Olson, accused of conspiring to bomb police cars in 1975, has been put off numerous times since it was first set for early 2000.
It was last slated for May 9 of this year after Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Larry Fidler denied a defense request for another delay.
Olson said more time was needed for attorney Shawn Snider Chapman to read thousands of pages of discovery material after her appointment as co-counsel. She also asserted that lead defense lawyer J. Tony Serra has been too involved in other cases around the state to be fully prepared to go to trial before September.
Prosecutors noted that Chapman has already been in and out of the case several times and argued that she had ample time to go through the material.
“We recognize that two years have passed since Olson’s arrest, that the trial court has been generous in granting continuances, and that there are serious concerns with respect to the health of various witnesses,” Justice Kathryn Doi Todd wrote in the unpublished opinion for the appeals court’s Div. Two. “But it is undisputed that the delay was occasioned in part by the withdrawal of other counsel and in part by the prosecution’s late production of discovery, and not by any conduct on the part of Chapman.”
Without the delay, the justice said, Serra and Snider would unable to render effective assistance.
Todd was joined by Justice Candace Cooper.
Presiding Justice Roger Boren dissented, saying the Los Angeles Superior Court should have its discretion respected on denying the delay, in view of the fact that there already have been several long delays.
“Granting a peremptory writ at this stage of the proceedings will wrest control of the trial from an able and effective trial judge and prevent him from managing all facets of the pretrial and the trial proceedings, as he has otherwise aptly done,” Boren wrote.
Argument was held June 22.
Olson was known as Kathleen Soliah in 1976 when she was indicted for conspiracy to commit murder and other charges. Prosecutors say Soliah was linked with the Symbionese Liberation Army and allege that she planned to bomb LAPD cars in revenge for the 1974 deaths of six SLA members in a Los Angeles shootout.
Soliah became a fugitive, changing her name to Sara Jane Olson, and was at large until her arrest near her St. Paul, Minn., home on June 16, 1999 shortly after being profiled on TV’s “America’s Most Wanted.” She is free on $1 million bail while awaiting trial.
Trial was first set for Jan. 10, 2000, then continued several times as Olson’s lawyers withdrew and new ones were appointed.
She first retained Stuart Hanlon and Susan Jordan of San Francisco, and Chapman as “local counsel.”
Chapman withdrew in the fall of 1999 when it became clear Olson could not afford to pay her, but the former deputy public defender, now a partner at the Beverly Hills firm of Vorzimer, Masserman & Chapman, continued to work for Olson pro bono.
Trial was continued to February 2000 as defense lawyers worked to exclude thousands of pages of SLA documents. The motion was denied.
Meanwhile, Hanlon withdrew, and Deputy Public Defender Martin Mizel was appointed in her place but declared a conflict, and was replaced by Deputy Alternate Public Defender Henry Hall. Trial then was set for August 2000.
The court then appointed Chapman as Olson’s counsel, and Jordan moved to withdraw. Serra came on with Chapman in May 2000, and trial was continued to January of this year. After a motion to continue it was reset to April 2001.
But then criminal proceedings were commenced against Chapman and Serra, as prosecutors alleged that they illegally disclosed the addresses of two police officer witnesses. Chapman was cleared several weeks ago. Trial for Serra is set for July 30.
Serra has said he will withdraw as counsel if convicted, meaning even the Sept. 24 trial date could be in doubt.
The case is Olson v. Superior Court, People RPI, B149850.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company