Criminal charges filed against defense lawyers in SLA case

The Associated Press
Tuesday May 08, 2001

LOS ANGELES — Two lawyers defending former Symbionese Liberation Army fugitive Sara Jane Olson were notified Monday that they have been criminally charged with involvement in releasing addresses and phone numbers of police witnesses. 

The city attorney’s office notified Shawn Chapman and J. Tony Serra of the criminal complaint in a letter instructing them to appear for arraignment May 17. 

“Failure to appear at the date and time indicated may result in the issuance of a warrant for your arrest,” the letter stated. 

Chapman’s partner, Dean Masserman, fired back a letter to Supervising City Attorney Alan Dahle suggesting that the office was trying to interfere with a fair trial for Olson who is charged with attempted murder in a 1976 indictment alleging a bombing conspiracy linked to the radical SLA. 

“The timing of the filing of your criminal complaint is not merely suggestive, it is nefarious,” said Masserman’s letter. ”... The only conclusion that can be drawn is that your office’s action is politically motivated and designed to interfere with Ms. Olson’s defense.” 

He noted that when the letter was received the defense was preparing an appeal seeking a delay in the trial on grounds that attorneys did not have adequate time to study the voluminous trial evidence and prepare their case. 

Now, Masserman said, the criminal complaint may create a conflict of interest between Chapman and her client “which might require her withdrawal from the case.” 

He said a delay will be essential to allow Chapman to defend herself in court and she might be forced to disclose confidential attorney-client matters which would disqualify her from representing Olson. 

Masserman called the charges “baseless and spurious” and demanded that they  

be dropped. 

City attorney’s spokesman Mike Qualls said the complaint charges three misdemeanor counts of disclosing the addresses and phone numbers of witnesses – once in a court motion and twice when it was posted on the Sara Olson Web site. 

Superior Court Judge James Ideman, who is no longer on the case, ruled that Olson had nothing to do with release of information. 

Prosecutors alleged that Olson and her defense team were responsible for the information about Officer John Hall and former officer James Bryan that appeared on the Web site in October before the judge ordered it removed. 

Hall and Bryan were the Los Angeles police officers whose cars were allegedly targeted in unsuccessful 1975 bombing attempts. Their addresses and phone numbers were contained in a court document posted on the Web site 

Olson’s lawyers said the information was posted inadvertently by Olson supporters without knowledge of the legal team. It was removed following complaints. 

Hall said his family has lived in fear since his address became public. 

“My wife, my children, my grandchildren live in terror,” Hall told the court. “My family are in fear of their lives, I am in fear for them and I am angry.”