Paul Hastings Obtains First-of-its-Kind Resolution in UCLA Criminal Prosecution

Monday, June 23, 2014

Los Angeles - Paul Hastings LLP, a leading global law firm, obtained a first-of-its-kind deferred prosecution agreement on behalf of firm client Dr. Patrick Harran, a UCLA biochemistry professor who faced four felony criminal counts arising out of a tragic laboratory accident on campus in 2008.  Under the terms of the Agreement, Professor Harran will devise and teach a summer chemistry course for underprivileged youth and perform other community service over a period of five years. 

Unlike standard deferred prosecution agreements, which require the accused to plead guilty or no contest to the charges before a probationary period begins, Professor Harran was not required to enter a plea to any criminal charge.  So long as no material safety violations occur in his laboratory during the course of his community service obligations, the charges against Professor Harran will be dismissed with prejudice.

The case is believed to be the first-ever prosecution of a professor arising out of an incident in an academic laboratory; and the settlement highlights Paul Hastings innovative handling of the case.

Prior to reaching the agreement with prosecutors, the Paul Hastings defense team filed a petition for writ of mandate with the California Court of Appeal, arguing that Professor Harran could not be guilty of the crimes charged as a matter of law.  Although that writ will be withdrawn as part of the Agreement, the Court of Appeal previously asserted jurisdiction over the matter and ordered opposition from the District Attorney, indicating that the appellate court had questions regarding the prosecution’s theory of the case.

In December 2008, UCLA research associate Sheharbano Sangji was manipulating a pyrophoric chemical in the laboratory when the syringe she was using malfunctioned, leading to a tragic fire that resulted in her death.  Initially, the Los Angeles District Attorney charged both the Regents of the University of California and Professor Harran with multiple violations of the state Labor Code in the wake of the incident.  The Regents were dismissed from the case under a civil compromise in July 2012.  Today, Professor Harran joined the Regents in assuming responsibility for laboratory conditions and employee safety.  In the wake of the December 2008 tragedy, UCLA has become a force in driving change within the academic community, providing a more dedicated and effective approach to laboratory safety.

The Paul Hastings defense team was led by Los Angeles litigation partner Thomas P. O’Brien, joined by litigation associates Daniel Prince and John J. O’Kane IV

Paul Hastings is a leading global law firm with a strong presence throughout Asia, Europe, Latin America and the United States. Through a collaborative approach, entrepreneurial spirit, and commitment to client service, the professionals of Paul Hastings deliver innovative solutions to many of the world’s top financial institutions and Fortune 500 companies.