Indiana judge declines to release Sugarland testimony

Keywords Courts / Law / Lawsuits / Legal Issues

A judge hearing several lawsuits filed over last summer's Indiana State Fair stage collapse declined Wednesday to release depositions from country duo Sugarland and told a plaintiff's attorney he shouldn't have publicized videotaped portions of the lead singer's testimony last month.

Marion Superior Court Judge Theodore Sosin also told attorneys for numerous parties involved in those lawsuits that he'll rule by early next week on a schedule for moving those suits toward resolution and may also expand an existing gag order.

Just before Sugarland was scheduled to take the stage for a concert the night of Aug. 13, stage rigging collapsed, killing seven people and injured nearly 60 others. Fair officials say they had a concert promoter ask the band twice to delay the concert because of concerns about severe weather, but were rebuffed.

Valparaiso attorney Kenneth J. Allen, who represents several of the victims, released videotaped portions of Sugarland lead singer Jennifer Nettles' deposition. He said he released that video in response to what he called inaccurate statements by the band's publicists.

Nettles said in the deposition she was told about 90 minutes before the scheduled start of the concert that weather was coming but wasn't specifically told it was a severe thunderstorm. She said she relies on others to alert her about weather.

Allen asked the court Wednesday for permission to release full transcript of Nettles' deposition and also that of fellow band member Kristian Bush. He said those documents would help his clients counter what he called misleading statements by Sugarland's "publicity machine."

"Our problem is our clients don't have publicists," Allen told the judge.

Bill Johnson, an attorney for the band's ownership company, Lucky Star Inc., told Sosin with sarcasm that he considers Allen's comments "very interesting."

Johnson said four of the five statements released by Sugarland's publicists had been drafted as direct responses to comments made or statements released by Allen. He also said the selected portions of Nettles' video deposition that Allen had released was a "stunt" to cast Sugarland in a bad light and suggest the bad somehow contributed to the tragedy.

"They're the entertainers and they caused it — that's the spin he's put on it," Johnson told the judge.

Sosin said he would not allow the release of Nettles and Bush's depositions because they're covered by a gag order he approved in January barring the release of certain evidence. The judge said that he'll rule early next week on whether to expand the scope of that protective order.

Sosin also reminded the attorneys that they are all subject to standards of ethical conduct and could face repercussions if they violate those standards. He also criticized Allen for attaching the band members' full deposition to his motion seeking the release of those transcripts.

"Even my court reporter, who has no legal training, said 'He attached the full deposition and he didn't mark it as confidential," Sosin said. "I hope that method of transmission does not happen again."

The judge said he will also rule early next week on a proposed agreement by several parties to the lawsuits that calls for them to go to trial after April 1, 2014 and sets other dates for the discovery process and mediation involving the suits.

A motion filed by Allen last week proposed an earlier trial date, specifying they start after Aug. 1, 2013. His motion said the proposed "deadlines are too long and only serve to delay the ultimate resolution of the matters and increase the parties' costs."

"We believe we've done everything to get this case ready for trial," Allen told the judge Wednesday.

Attorney for other parties either suing or being sued over the rigging collapse told Sosin they need the extra time to collect information such as depositions and other discovery material to prepare for trial.

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