There have been a number of odd developments in the Sheri Sangji case, the lab fatality at UCLA that led to criminal charges being filed against both Prof. Patrick Harran and the university. The Doing Good Science blog at Scientific American has a thorough round-up of the latest.
Last Friday, charges were dropped against UCLA, and the case against Harran was separated. As part of the deal, UCLA agreed to establish a memorial scholarship and to improve its safety measures. We're still finding out about those, but Chemjobber has more details here and here.
I note that this seems to be a process-heavy, paperwork-heavy system that's going into place. And while that might help, I'm going to remain skeptical, since I've worked under similar conditions, and it did not stop some people from have lab accidents that they shouldn't have had. Now, there's no way of knowing how many accidents these policies prevented, but the ones that got through were just the sorts of things that this safety regime was designed to prevent. So one does have to wonder. It's a natural impulse to think that process improvements are the answer to such situations, though. It's especially going to come out that way when you have lawyers watching who will want to see measurable, quantifiable steps being taken. It's not possible to measure how many people avoided lab hazards as a result of your safety measures - but it is possible to count how many meetings people have to attend, how many standard operating procedures they have to generate and sign off on, and so on.
Now as far as Prof. Harran's case, here's where things get weird. His legal team appears to be attacking the California OSHA report on the lab incident by pointing out that its author was involved in a murder plot as a teenager and lied about it to investigators (falsus in uno. . .). After some confusion about whether this was even the same person, word is now that the investigator has suddenly resigned from his position as a public safety commissioner. So perhaps Harran's lawyers are on to something.
But on to what, exactly? I can understand this as a legal tactic. It's not a very honorable one, but it's been said that lawyers will do anything for you that can be done while wearing a nice suit (that's their ethical boundary). Their job is to exonerate their client, and they will do pretty much anything that leads to that result. Will this? Doubt can be cast on the personal history of the Cal OSHA investigator, for sure, but can it be cast on the report that he wrote? Chemjobber's guess is that this indicates that plea bargaining isn't going well, and that seems quite believable to me.
So that's the state of things now. There will be more, perhaps a lot more, the way this case is going so far. Whether it all will lead to a just outcome depends on what you think justice is, and how it might be served here. And whether any of it will keep someone in the future from being killed by a dangerous reagent that they did not appear ready to use, I have no idea. The longer all this goes on, and the more convoluted it gets, the more I wonder about that.