Friday, April 26, 2013

BREAKING: Professor Patrick Harran going to trial

From Jyllian Kemsley and Michael Torrice, a tweet from the LA Superior Court on Judge Lisa Lench's ruling in the preliminary hearing for UCLA professor Patrick Harran:
If you told me this was going to happen, close to 4-and-a-half years later, I would have never believed it.

Follow-up tweet and a good reminder from Dr. Kemsley:
"Keep in mind that prelim threshold is not high--"more likely than not" vs "beyond reasonable doubt"
Updates as they happen.

UPDATE 4:24 PM Eastern: C&EN's article by Michael Torrice on today's preliminary hearing decision, including this interesting statement from the trial judge:
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.
Dollars to donuts, there's gonna be a plea. But what can the Harran defense team offer? Or do they think they can win in front of a jury?

UPDATE 4:32 PM Eastern: The AP article, no new items there. The Los Angeles Times article, by Kim Christensen* has the quote from Prof. Harran's lawyer, Thomas O'Brien:
"We fully expect to vindicate Professor Harran,” his attorney, Thomas O’Brien, said after the hearing. “This was an accident, a tragic accident. We have always maintained that, as the University of California has, and we expect him to be vindicated.”
The dictionary definition of "vindicate" is worth a look.

UPDATE 8:18 PM Eastern: Patch.com has some rather remarkable quotes from the hearing, including one from Judge Lench:
"This is not the run of the mill case, not the run of the mill crime," Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lisa B. Lench said, adding that the death of Sheharbano "Sheri" Sangji was "an incredibly tragic event." [snip]
..."This was a tragic accident and someone died ... a horrible death," O'Brien said. "But that doesn't make an accident a crime."
Deputy District Attorney Craig Hum countered that Harran acted as both "supervisor and an employer" of Sangji. It was the professor who made the hiring decisions for his lab, and payment for assistants came from his budget, the prosecutor said. 
It was Harran's responsibility to train Sanji and "make sure all appropriate regulations are followed," Hum said. The defendant "doesn't have to know his conduct violates the law" to be held responsible for safety violations, the prosecutor argued. 
"He knew he was supposed to train her ... and he chose not to train her," Hum alleged. 
After Lench refused to dismiss the charges, O'Brien put forward an argument to lower the charges to misdemeanors. 
Harran is "not the typical defendant," the defense attorney said, adding that felony convictions could have a negative effect on his client's work in research. The prosecutor, though, alleged Harran's behavior was felonious. 
"Sheri Sangji died, and she died a horrible death," he said. "And the defendant needs to be punished for that."
*The Los Angeles Times reporter that has covered the issue since the beginning. 

24 comments:

  1. Think of all the time he will have to write grant proposals from inside a jail cell. Nothing to distract him.

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    1. In the fine state of California they don't have room/$$ to jail every violent offender, much less chemistry professors. Even if found guilty, he's probably not headed to a jail. Certainly not for long.

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  2. Good! These days most every Assistant Professor and above is really a pencil pusher. They are certainly not "practicing" scientists other than on paper.

    Certainly applies to all "advisors" (except one; who was a world-class protein X-ray crystallographer), I ever encountered.

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  3. I think the term the lawyer is looking for is "weasel out of".

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  4. University is not a kindergarten and work in a lab is not a walk in a park. People act as if the laws of physics do not apply to them. Well, the events take a sad turn, when the people suddenly find out those laws do apply.

    That student did have a qualification in the form of a prior degree - otherwise, she simply would not have been eligible for the program. She chose not to exercise extreme caution while operating with a dangerous chemical (and just about any chemical in its pure form is considerably dangerous). The graduate students are supposed to be "the cream of the crop". What happened was evolution taking its toll on the weakest and dumbest. But in the days of "CAUTION! THE BEVERAGE YOU ARE ABOUT TO ENJOY IS EXTREMELY HOT" - it is quite an expected phenomenon.

    The PI has so many duties - it is not even funny. Yes, 99.9% of them are "paper-pushers". Well, let's thank the NIH, which funds 4% of the grants, for instance. Thank the US government, which allocates $31 billion for the NIH, and over several hundred billion dollars for the DHS and $93 billion for the IRS. My boss keeps writing proposals and hardly ever sleeps. Do you expect him to babysit me as well?

    Seriously, are we talking about the "formal" safety training to get a "legal protection", or a real deal, i.e. understanding what one does and more importantly, how the universities work? "They have not been trained to run to the shower"? I hope they have at least been potty-trained.

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    1. >What happened was evolution taking its toll on the weakest and dumbest

      Seriously DIAGF.

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    2. "The student....the graduate students..."
      Well, I expect a real "smart" grad student to read the whole article where it says she was a Technician, not a graduate student, as you seem to believe. Good luck with reading the MSDS with that level of reading fail, though. Hope Harran's letter of rec for you is still worth something!

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    3. It is curious, how personal responsibility steadily becomes practically extinct in this country (and all developed world for that matter). Another observation: when someone dies tragically (and/or prematurely), everyone is seemingly obligated to mourn that person's passing, which per se clears that person of any sins and responsibilities. Should someone dare to point out, that that is not exactly true - that person is declared a heretic that should "seriously DIAGF": thus making it OK to wish someone died just because they happen to have a different point of view. Sounds a bit extreme, don't you think?

      As far as my "reading skills" are concerned, the article does not mention the exact academic status of the deceased. The article mentions she was a "research associate", who could either be a technician or a graduate student. Other publications mention she was a "research assistant" and "staff", which might indeed lead to a conclusion that she was a technician. Still, what I've been accused of is not correct. Moreover, the argument still stands: the qualification of the deceased was her prior college degree regardless of her occupation status in the lab.

      By the way, I am not related/connected to Dr. Harran in any way. All I stand for is sanity. "Knee-jerk" decisions are of no good to society and surely will not bring miss Sangji back and will not improve the current overall situation in science.

      To conclude, when there is nothing else to say, the demagogues utilize argumentum ad personam extensively. It reveals their true nature and highlights the weak spots of their agenda.

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    4. Well something sure brought out the Pro-Harran trolls, but if they don't know anything about the case, why are they here? Certainly is a mystery.

      I wonder if it is related to the time of posting? It is the middle of the afternoon in Asia.

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    5. "...when someone dies tragically (and/or prematurely), everyone is seemingly obligated to mourn that person's passing..."

      You're right, no one is obligated to mourn a death. Nor does mourning clear the deceased of any "sins or responsibilities" which may have lead to their death (not that it matters much to them at that point).

      Neither is anyone obligated to throw around pretentious half-baked evolutionary pseudo-justifications for a violent death, nor is anyone obligated to agree with such statements, as you are privileged not to agree with mine.

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  5. Example 458976 of idiots thinking that regulations protect without harm. California is pandemic with idiots.

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  6. And that activist judge hast to be a group leader of judicial idiots.

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  7. Jail? This is out of control. Is there no oversight on the actions of this judge, or prosecutor? They have already seriously ruined this Professor's career and it is suspicious that this judge chose to drop charges or settle with the University and then not let the matter settle with the Professor. Horrible accidents and mistakes happen...every day. He has learned from this and will be paying for the rest of his life, emotionally, professionally and financially. This legal process will go on for another decade. The courts should be used for trying criminals, not lynching a Chemistry Professor. This is a waste of time and taxpayer money, while also a frightening effort to continue the tragedy by ruining more people's lives. This judge was re-elected, unopposed, in 2010. How do we choose these judges, really? If one of your employees makes a mistake and is injured, pray that this vindictive Prosecutor and Judge don't go after you to try to make headlines for themselves. Unbelievable.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. You sound like a shill.

      Nevertheless for more than a decade universities have tried to remake themselves and emulate businesses. No longer is a university a place to selflessly gain and further knowledge. It's all about profit (from IP, from tuition)! Isn't it time that we hold them up to the same employment standards as any other for-profit business? And that includes workplace safety standards.

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    3. Dear sir, please note, that any sane, reasonable, well-versed comment, like yours, on this issue calls for the termination of all charges against Dr. Harran. The blood-thirsty lynchers on the other hand, call their opponents names, express their opinions emotionally and incoherently. More often than not, their comments do not pertain to the case, and poor grammar speaks for itself.

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    4. The judge who handled Harran's preliminary hearing was not the same one who approved the UC settlement. And Harran's case may get assigned to yet another one for the trial.

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    5. Dr Kemsley, i did want to say that i appreciate the hard work and dedication you've put in to your coverage, as well as coming on the various blogs and keeping us informed directly. It's been the most edifying part of this long slog of a case, and a reason you're one of the few employees at C&EN that i respect.

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  8. There was a time when I would have given profs the benefit of doubt. But knowing what I know about the system and attitudes of those in the system, I hope they screw him over.

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    1. Seems like the people who have never been to grad school think a professor should get the benefit of the doubt, while anyone who's been to grad school (including myself) loves seeing a professor squirm!

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    2. As the great Chairman Mao Zedong taught us: "Punish One, Teach One Hundred."

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    3. It is rather curious to see a lynching crowd in action. They don't care if that person is right or wrong. They don't care about the case. All they want is redemption, for they've been hurt - some time, long time ago, by a different jerk. And they want the execution, for it is "the right thing"! They know it is the system. They know that "formal safety training" is bullshit to protect the university from any liability: you either have the head on you shoulders and the degree in the field - or you don't. But they still want the execution! Quite curious, indeed.

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    4. To Anonymous @ 7:54, speak for yourself. As a chemistry grad student I find the prosecution of professor Harran to be absurd. This was a tragedy, not a crime.

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  9. As harried as most faculty are these days, torn between meeting escalating research expectations and teaching courses, not to mention everything from janitorial work (just unstopped the drain in my laboratory), to entertaining visitors and students, and the general jocular attitude one is expected to project despite the fact hazards are every- and anywhere present in organic laboratories--such freedom from distraction makes it very difficult to ensure against accidents. Some have called for implementation of industrial standards in academic laboratories as the answer. If so, academic laboratories may as well be shut down completely. Let industry assume the costs of training and education. Academe for the most part wants all the benefits and none of the cost.

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