After UCLA chemistry professor Patrick Harran walked out of court in June, his lawyers issued a news release hailing the "first-of-its-kind" deal that all but freed him from criminal liability in a 2008 lab fire that killed a staff researcher.
The "deferred prosecution agreement" that allowed Harran to avoid pleading guilty or no-contest to any charge might have been a novel resolution, as his attorneys said.
But it certainly didn't come cheap.
Top-tier law firms hired to defend him and the University of California against felony charges in the death of Sheharbano "Sheri" Sangji charged more than 7,700 billable hours and nearly $4.5 million in fees, according to documents obtained by The Times through a California Public Records Act request.
Nearly five dozen defense attorneys, paralegals and others billed for work on the case, the records show. One attorney charged $792,000 in fees and at least four other lawyers billed more than $500,000 each — all for pretrial work....
...Sangji's sister, Naveen, has called the sanctions against Harran and UCLA "barely a slap on the wrist." She noted that previous safety violations in his lab were not corrected before her sister's death and that UCLA had ignored the "wake-up calls" of earlier accidents in other labs.
On Wednesday, she decried the nearly $4.5 million in legal fees — enough to buy 86,000 lab coats.
"Had UCLA spent even a tiny fraction of this money and effort on laboratory and chemical safety training and fire resistant gear … Sheri might still be with us today," she said.There's a lot to say about the Sangji case and I've still yet to say it (partially because I'm still formulating my thoughts about it.) It is remarkable to me how enthusiastically UCLA defended Professor Harran from these charges -- it would be fascinating to know if they've ever defended an employee in this manner before. I think the answer is "no". Deborah Blum cogently pointed out on Twitter that it was probably fighting the precedent more than anything else -- I think that's probably the case.
Nevertheless, a remarkable amount of money to be spent. Boy, I'm in the wrong business.