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Judge Dismisses Charges Against Olson Attorney

July 21, 2001|ANNA GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge dismissed criminal charges Friday against Tony Serra, a defense attorney in the bomb conspiracy trial of alleged Symbionese Liberation Army member Sara Jane Olson.

Serra had faced trial on misdemeanor charges that he disclosed the addresses and phone numbers of two police witnesses in a court document for Olson's upcoming case. He was scheduled to be tried July 30.

The Los Angeles city attorney's office moved to drop the case after Serra agreed to pay $5,000 to the Police Memorial Foundation, which supports widows and children of slain police officers. Judge Katherine Mader granted the motion, attorneys said.

A State Bar of California investigation into Serra's actions is still pending, attorneys for both sides said.

Assistant City Atty. Alan Dahle said he made the motion partly because the misdemeanor case was tied to the Olson trial, which has been delayed repeatedly and is set to start in late September. Serra had vowed to withdraw from the defense team if he was convicted.

Dahle said he still believes that Serra violated a state law designed to protect witnesses and that the state bar was the best organization to be doling out any discipline.

"Attorneys are not supposed to do this," he said. "They are not supposed to publish addresses of witnesses."

Serra's lawyer, Eric Shevin, said he approached the city attorney's office Wednesday and asked officials to drop the case because it was clouding the real issue, Olson's trial.

"I just couldn't believe we were going to spend all this time litigating this nonsense," Shevin said. "It just seemed frivolous to me."

He said his client did not admit wrongdoing by making the donation but did want to show that he was sensitive to the witnesses. But Senior Assistant City Atty. Maureen Siegel called the dismissal of charges a civil compromise and said she believes that the monetary contribution did bear some significance.

Serra, a Northern California attorney, was in trial and unavailable for comment. But he left a statement with his secretary that the dismissal "verified his position, which has always been that his case was really a strike against Sara Jane Olson and had no merit against him."

Similar charges were dropped last month against Olson's co-counsel, Shawn Chapman, after the city attorney's office determined that she did not play a role in revealing the addresses.

The city attorney's office filed the charges against Serra and Chapman in May. They both faced three counts of violating state law, which could have resulted in jail time or thousands of dollars in fines.

Serra has said his secretary drew up the document, signed his name and filed it while he was out of town in November. It included addresses and phone numbers of Officers John Hall and James Bryan, intended targets of the alleged bomb plot. The document was then posted on a Web site--based in Minnesota--that was created to raise money for Olson's defense.

Shevin called Serra's actions inadvertent. "Tony is the most ethical guy," he said. "He is not going to jeopardize his career over something he knows you can't do."

He added that Serra would continue working on the Olson case, despite the pending state bar investigation. Olson is accused of trying to kill the two officers by placing bombs under their squad cars. The bombs did not explode.

She was arrested in 1999, after more than two decades in hiding.

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