Attorneys in SLA case being ‘distracted’

The Associated Press
Saturday May 26, 2001

LOS ANGELES — Lawyers for former Symbionese Liberation Army fugitive Sara Jane Olson are being distracted because they must defend themselves against criminal charges, their attorneys said Friday after a court hearing on the case. 

“This is obviously interfering with their ability” to defend Olson, said Dean Masserman, who represents J. Tony Serra. 

“It’s really difficult for them to be able to concentrate ... when they have their own prosecutions to think about,” he said outside court. 

Serra and co-counsel Shawn Chapman face misdemeanor charges of improperly releasing the addresses and phone numbers of police witnesses in Olson’s case. 

Olson, 54, is accused of attempting to murder police officers by placing bombs under their cars in 1975, allegedly in retaliation for the deaths of six members of the radical SLA in a shootout with police in 1974. The bombs did not explode. 

The witnesses, James Bryant and John Hall, say they feared for their lives when personal information appeared on an Olson defense committee Web site. Olson’s lawyers say the information was posted by Olson supporters without their knowledge. 

Serra has pleaded innocent, and his attorney said he believes there is a good chance the charge will be dismissed before trial. 

Superior Court Judge William C. Ryan set Serra’s pretrial hearing for June 4 and set Chapman’s arraignment for the same date. Neither lawyer was in court. 

Chapman’s lawyer, Bruce Margolin, told Ryan he had spoken with the city attorney’s office, which is reviewing the case against his client. 

But outside court, he said the discussions were informal and “you don’t count your chickens until they’re hatched.” 

Masserman claimed city prosecutors threw a “monkey wrench” into the Olson proceedings by charging her lawyers. The attorneys may face a conflict of interest that could get them thrown off the case, he said. 

Serra has said he will file a motion asking to remove not only himself and Chapman but also Olson’s two prosecutors and the entire Los Angeles Superior Court bench from Olson’s case. 


Olson was 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 has a family. She has said she is innocent and that she never belonged to the SLA.