Prosecutors will challenge delay in SLA trial

The Associated Press
Thursday May 10, 2001

LOS ANGELES — Prosecutors said Wednesday they will challenge an appeals court order delaying the trial of former Symbionese Liberation Army fugitive Sara Jane Olson until Sept. 4, but her attorneys argued they can’t proceed because they now face charges. 

Olson’s trial on a 1976 indictment alleging she attempted to murder police officers had been expected to begin in a few weeks, after pretrial hearings. 

Defense attorneys Shawn Chapman and J. Tony Serra sought the delay order before learning this week that the city attorney’s office had charged them with misdemeanor crimes involving release of addresses and phone numbers of two police witnesses. 

Superior Court Judge Larry P. Fidler said during a hearing that filing charges against lawyers with a trial imminent is unusual. “There is very little law in this particular area,” he said. 

Chapman said the charges have “chilled” their ability to effectively represent Olson due to a conflict created by having to defend themselves. 

“This is an extraordinary situation,” said Chapman.  

“I’ve never heard of anything like this.” Olson, who attended the hearing with one of her daughters, told reporters she was “surprised and worried” when she heard about the charges against her lawyers. 

Chapman suggested that Olson’s trial cannot proceed until the misdemeanor case against the lawyers is resolved. 

Fidler said he believes the felony charges against Olson take precedence. He scheduled a status hearing for May 18, the day after the attorneys are to be arraigned. 

Olson, 54, is accused of planting bombs under police cars in 1975 in retaliation for the deaths of six SLA members in a fiery shootout in 1974. The bombs did not explode. 

Indicted in 1976 under her former name, Kathleen Soliah, she was a fugitive until her 1999 capture in Minnesota, where she had taken on her new name and was living as a doctor’s wife, mother and active community member. 

Defense attorneys won a stay of the trial Tuesday from the 2nd District Court of Appeals. The attorneys had argued that they needed more time to analyze extensive evidence in the case, while prosecutors contended they have had enough time. 

Deputy District Attorneys Michael Latin and Eleanor Hunter immediately filed notice that they will challenge the stay. A hearing is set before the appeals court June 22. 

Meanwhile, the prosecutors asked Fidler to order immediate videotaped testimony taken from three elderly witnesses in the Sacramento area who are in poor health and may not be able to attend the trial.  

They witnessed bank robberies allegedly committed by the SLA. 

Fidler said he believes the appeals court stay prevents him from ruling on any pretrial motions for the time being. 

Outside court, Chapman alleged authorities were trying to interfere with Olson’s defense by prosecuting the attorneys. 

“I suppose they see we are effectively representing her and they are pulling out all the stops,” Chapman said. 

District attorney’s spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons called the allegations “absurd” and said county prosecutors were unaware of the city attorney’s action until after the charges were filed. 

“Why would we do this?” she said. “Why would we want to complicate a case that we are ready to take to trial?” 


She said if the city attorney had asked, the trial prosecutors would have told them to hold off on filing charges against the lawyers.