Oakland Warehouse Fire Lawyers Can’t Discuss Case Outside Court

January 24, 2019

A Northern California judge on Friday barred lawyers from publicly discussing the case of two men charged for their roles in the deaths of three dozen people at a warehouse illegally converted into an entertainment venue where a fire broke out.

Judge Trina Thompson granted a prosecutor’s request to silence the defendants’ lawyers outside court. The judge also barred the men from participating in jailhouse interviews with reporters or publicly commenting on the case.

Derick Almena, 48, and Max Harris, 28, are each charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the 2016 Oakland fire. Almena rented the warehouse and prosecutors charged him with illegally converting the structure into an entertainment venue and live-work space for artists. Harris helped Almena collect rent and schedule concerts.

Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Autrey James argued in court papers that a gag order will ensure a fair trial scheduled for April 2 by preventing potential jurors from hearing about the case.

James said Almena has given several interviews since his arrest last year and lawyers for both defendants freely discuss the case with the reporters.

“Almena has repeatedly shared with the media emails, videos and photos given to the defense as part of the discovery process in the apparent hope or belief that selective dissemination of these materials would tell his version of how events leading up to this deadly fire transpired,” James wrote in court papers.

Harris’ attorney, Curtis Briggs, in court papers filed before the hearing, called the prosecutors’ proposal for a gag order an “attempt to hide the ugly truth: that the prosecution of Harris and Almena is wholly lacking in justice and integrity.”

Almena’s attorney, Tony Serra, covered his mouth with his hands as he left court after the hearing.

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