Berkeley Attorney For SLA Members, Medical Pot Growers Dies In Plane Crash





Berkeley Attorney For SLA Members, Medical Pot Growers Dies In Plane Crash

By Mike Mitchell




June 4, 2009, Susan B. Jordan, a prominent attorney known for her work defending women charged with violent crimes, and who is credited with the creation of the battered spouse defense, was killed Friday in a plane crash in Utah. She was 67.

Jordan, who split her time between homes in Berkeley and Ukiah in Mendocino County, formerly had a law office in Berkeley, and since 1972 had run a law practice in Ukiah.

Jordan had been a licensed pilot since 1981, but longtime friend and professional colleague Ann Moorman said she was not flying the plane when it went down. Health care executive John Austin, 64, of Boulder, Utah, and Oakland, also died in the crash, which occurred when the two-seater Stork airplane hit power lines near Escalante in the southern part of the state, said Becki Bronson, a spokeswoman for the Garfield County Sheriff's Department.

During her nearly 40 years practicing law, Jordan represented medical marijuana growers, former Symbionese Liberation Army members Sara Jane Olson and Bill and Emily Harris as well as Judi Bari of Earth First, and members of the Black Panther Party during politically charged grand jury investigations.

Even while litigating high-profile cases, Moorman said Jordan always remained grounded in her passion as a criminal defender. Jordan once described herself in an interview as "your basic all-purpose criminal lawyer representing jewel thieves, bank robbers, prostitutes and murderers, to name a few."

"She was a crusader," said her legal assistant Sharon Frazier. "She had a suit of armor that the military would crave. She could be very tough, but she was also a very kind and compassionate person, as well."


Moorman said Jordan and her husband, Ronnie Wong, were visiting Austin and his wife, Jacqui Smalley, at their Boulder Creek Canyon ranch when the two went to run an errand in the plane. The plane, an SS-MK4, was a home-built fixed-wing single-engine aircraft built in 2000, said Mike Fergus, a spokesman with the Federal Aviation Administration. What happened will likely be better understood after the crash is investigated by the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board, Moorman said.

Born in Chicago in 1941, Jordan graduated from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in 1963. She earned a master's degree in education in 1965 from Yeshiva University in New York City. After teaching in public schools in New York City and becoming active in the civil rights movement in Mississippi, she decided to study law. She graduated with a law degree in 1970 from Northwestern University's law school in Chicago. In 1973, she moved to San Francisco.

Perhaps Jordan's most notable case, People v. Inez Garcia, is held up as the first trial in which battered woman's syndrome was recognized as an affirmative defense. Garcia was a Monterey County rape victim who had been convicted of killing one of her attackers. She was acquitted in 1977 after Jordan argued that she had acted in self-defense.

Jordan's passion for courtroom challenges was equally matched by her passion for aviation, yoga and meditation, friends said.

"Susan was about 5 feet 2, very fit and if you met her once, you'd never forget her. She had an enormously captivating personality and a presence that was inquiring and engaging," Moorman said.


  • People v. Inez Garcia, Monterey County Superior Court, 1977. On a self-defense theory, Inez Garcia was acquitted of killing the man who raped her.

  • People v. Emily Harris, U. S. District Court for the Northern District of California and Alameda County Superior Court, 1978. Involved the defense of Emily Harris, who was charged with kidnapping Patricia Hearst.

  • People v. Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney, Alameda County Superior Court, 1990. This case, which reached only the investigation stage, focused on Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney as suspects in the bombing of their own vehicle. Defendants were not charged.

  • In re 1993 Superior Court Elections, Mendocino County. A highly charged ballot recount arising out of the election by a 3 vote margin of a controversial supervisor. Election results upheld.

  • Tamara A. v. Berkeley Unified School District, United States, District Court for the Northern District of California, 1995-96. A lawsuit on behalf of 12 minor plaintiffs and their mothers against the Berkeley Unified School District for violation of civil rights arising out of sexual molestation and sexual harassment by an elementary school teacher. Case settled

  • United States of America v. Ukiah Cannabis Buyers Cooperative, United States District Court for District of Northern California, 1998. The attempt by the United States Government to shut down marijuana dispensaries, functioning under the authority of state statute Prop 215. Injunction granted against Cooperative.

  • People of the State of California v. Sara Jane Olson [Kathleen Soliah], Los Angeles Superior Court, 1999-2002. This case involved the defense of Sara Jane Olson, captured after 23 years, alleged to be a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army  (SLA), charged with conspiracy to bomb police officers. Defendant entered pleas of guilty.

  • Sarah Roncskevitz et al. v. Benicia Unified School District et al., United States District Court for District of Eastern California, 2000. A lawsuit on behalf of three minor plaintiffs and their parents against the Benicia Unified School District for violation of civil rights arising out of sexual molestation and sexual harassment by a middle school teacher, the band leader. Case was tried. Plaintiffs were awarded damages.

  • United States of America vs. Ukiah Cannabis Buyers Club, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal, filed 2002. In this appeal, appellants are seeking to overturn the decision of the District Court, upholding the government?s right to close distribution outlets for medical marijuana, as authorized by State law.

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