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Judge Calls Complaint Against SOS Too Vague; D.A. Plans to Redraft It

March 09, 1985|MYRON LEVIN | Times Staff Writer

County prosecutors said Friday that they will amend a complaint accusing Space Ordnance Systems of criminal toxic waste violations in the wake of a court ruling that the complaint is too vague.

But one prosecutor said that, although the ruling will delay prosecution of the Santa Clarita Valley defense contractor and three of its executives, it is "not a make-or-break thing for the case."

Written Decision to Follow

In an oral ruling Thursday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Reese upheld defense contentions that the complaint against SOS and company officials Joseph Cabaret, Michael Murphy and James Smith was not specific enough to allow preparation of an adequate defense.

The judge said he would issue a written decision detailing what elements of the complaint should be made more specific. Deputy Dist. Atty. Cliff Klein said he would amend the complaint soon after the issuance of the written opinion, possibly by the end of the month.

Jeffrey Norton, vice president and general counsel for TransTechnology Corp. of Sherman Oaks, corporate parent of SOS, said the ruling is "what we expected, what we had hoped for."

The district attorney filed the 87-count complaint Aug. 29, accusing SOS and the executives of violating state and county hazardous waste laws at the company's Mint Canyon plant at Agua Dulce and its Sand Canyon plant near Canyon Country.

Plea Not Yet Filed

The defendants have not yet filed a plea to the misdemeanor charges because of the dispute over the adequacy of the complaint.

Defense lawyers argued that the complaint generally failed to identify the specific wastes the defendants allegedly mishandled, and the date and plant site of each of the alleged violations.

Newhall Municipal Judge H. Keith Byram last fall denied the defense contentions but granted a request to delay arraignment pending the appeal to the Superior Court.

Reese's ruling came a day short of the one-year anniversary of the raids that led to the complaint and to other legal problems for SOS.

Coordinated Raids

On March 8, 1984, a small army of county and state health and law-enforcement officials staged coordinated raids on the Mint and Sand Canyon plants, where SOS produces flares and explosive devices for the military. Officials said they turned up evidence that SOS had stored hazardous wastes without required permits and had disposed of chemically tainted waste water by spraying it through sprinklers, dumping it on the ground and along creek beds.

Besides the criminal charges, the raid has led to a dozen or more civil lawsuits against SOS by its neighbors and a move by the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission to revoke the company's zoning permits.

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