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Indiana fair lawsuits won't go to trial until 2014

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A group of lawsuits related to last summer's deadly Indiana State Fair stage collapse likely won't go to trial for nearly two years, according to a judge's ruling that also warned attorneys not to release any evidence in the high-profile case.

Marion Superior Court Judge Theodore Sosin released an order acknowledging that most attorneys in the case want a trial no earlier than April 1, 2014. The judge didn't set a trial date but ordered both sides into mediation to try to work out a settlement.

The order also warns lawyers that they could face sanctions if they say anything or disclose evidence that might prejudice court proceedings, noting such a move would violate a protective order and legal codes of conduct.

"The court acknowledges that this case has and will continue to generate significant pretrial publicity," Sosin wrote.

The judge didn't rule out sanctions for past transgressions.

At a May 9 hearing, Sosin criticized attorney Kenneth J. Allen, who is representing several victims and their families, for releasing portions of a videotaped deposition by Sugarland lead singer Jennifer Nettles. Stage rigging fell onto a crowd of people waiting for the country music duo to take the stage as stormy weather moved in on Aug. 13. Seven people were killed and dozens were injured.

Allen said Wednesday that he released the Nettles video April 16 in response to misleading statements by Sugarland's publicists.

"All we've tried to do is to ... control what we believe to be the false assertions made by the other side. And I think that's what the rule contemplates," Allen said. "We have the right and duty to rebut it and that's what we've done."

Sugarland's spokesman declined comment Wednesday.

Allen also said he wasn't the first to release depositions taken from witnesses in the case. Mid-America Sound Corp., which built the roof and rigging used to hold the lights and sound equipment at the concert, released portions of a deposition in January by Indiana State Fair Commission executive director Cindy Hoye.

A spokeswoman for Mid-America also declined comment, citing the judge's order.

Victims and survivors' families who are seeking millions of dollars in damages have filed lawsuits against various entities involved in the show.

The judge's order, dated May 24, outlines a plan to consolidate pretrial preparation for the lawsuits. It also requires attorneys for both sides to take part in mediation toward possible settlements before Dec. 31, 2013.

The state government's liability is limited to $5 million by state law, but state lawmakers voted in March to give an additional $6 million to the stage collapse victims.

Allen said he was disappointed with the suggested trial timing but pleased with the overall ruling.

"We believe that the case could be tried easily within a year," said Allen, whose clients were the only ones requesting an earlier trial date.

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