A federal judge heard arguments Thursday but made no decision on whether to order the extradition of the mother of a man suspected of setting dozens of fires in Hollywood, West Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley over New Year's weekend.
Dorothee Burkhart, 53, is fighting extradition to her native Germany, where she is wanted on a host of fraud charges.
Contrary to her behavior at previous hearings, the woman sat quietly, taking notes.
Michael Belter, Burkhart's attorney, argued against extradition on several fronts.
First, the woman has been subpoenaed by her son's defense as a key witness in the arson case, the attorney said, adding that he had questions about the statute of limitations on the German fraud charges.
He also said his client fears being subjected to "assault" and "torture" at the hands of "right-wing extremists" in her native country.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Cathy Ostiller countered that if Burkhart lost the extradition battle and exhausted all appeals, it would be "a year or two" before she is returned to Frankfurt, so she would be in custody in Los Angeles for her son's trial for at least the next few years.
Were she to be returned to Germany before the trial, the woman could be brought back to testify for her son or she could do so in real time over satellite, the prosecutor said.
"We will ensure " Burkhart will be able to "testify one way or the other," Ostiller told U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles F. Eick.
The woman has described herself as the sole link between her "mentally ill" son, Harry, and "the outside world." Her 24-year-old son faces trial on dozens of arson-related charges stemming from the series of fires that terrorized Los Angeles over four nights at the start of the year.
"I was the person who was the bridge between the outside world and the inside of his brain," Burkhart said at a previous hearing.
Her arrest pending extradition is thought to have sparked the arson rampage allegedly committed by her distraught son, her only child. See previous stories:
Also arguing before Eick was Gustavo N. Sztraicher, Harry Burkhart's defense attorney, who asked the court to put the extradition proceedings on hold so his client's mother could prepare for the arson trial.
Because of Harry's "extremely compromised mental state," the mother is needed to provide "historical data about his own life," Sztraicher said.
Dorothee Burkhart "can fill those gaps," the lawyer argued.
Sztraicher reminded the court that last Dec. 30 when the arson suspect's mother first appeared in federal court after her arrest as a wanted fugitive, her son caused a disturbance, going on an anti-American tirade in court. The arson fires began within hours.
"I think that shows how entwined these two cases are," the defense attorney said.
In describing Burkhart's state of mind, Belter said she left Germany not because of the fraud charges in 2007, but because she believed "her organs" would be harvested. "And that's why she fled," the lawyer said.
Eick indicated it would be "some time" before he issues his ruling on the woman's extradition.
Dorothee Burkhart is accused in Frankfurt of subletting apartments that she did not own, failing to pay rent and security deposits on other locations, and defrauding a cosmetic surgeon out of about $10,000 for breast augmentation surgery for which she never paid, according to court papers.
The extradition process can take at least a year, federal prosecutors said. It took about four months to extradite former TV producer Bruce Beresford- Redman to Mexico to face charges for the killing of his wife -- an unusually short length of time because Beresford-Redman did not appeal the judge's extradition order. Harry Burkhart faces 100 felony charges related to 49 blazes set between Dec. 30 and Jan. 2. Most of the fires began in automobiles but usually spread to homes in Hollywood, West Hollywood, Sherman Oaks and surrounding areas.
His bail has been set at $7.5 million. A trial date has not been set.