Judge Says No To Questioning Grand Jurors In GREAT WHITE Nightclub Case

The Associated Press has issued the following report:

Lawyers for the owners of The Station nightclub may not continue interviewing the grand jurors who indicted their clients in the deadly 2003 fire at the club, a Superior Court judge ruled Friday.

The decision by Judge Francis Darigan Jr. denies a key defense request that was seen as a possible step toward getting the indictments thrown out.

Lawyers for nightclub owners Jeffrey and Michael Derderian wanted to resume interviewing jurors about their absences and missed testimony during the grand jury proceedings two years ago. They had already conducted interviews with several grand jurors without consulting the court.

But Darigan said the request would threaten the ability of future grand juries to deliberate in secret and without the fear they would be questioned by lawyers about their discussions.

Grand jurors worried about being contacted could be influenced during the proceedings, he warned.

"Such a result will have a chilling effect on a grand jury system and will not be permitted by this court," Darigan said.

The grand jury indicted the Derderians and Dan Biechele, the former tour manager for the band GREAT WHITE, on 200 counts each of involuntary manslaughter for the Feb. 20, 2003, fire, which killed 100 people. All three have pleaded innocent.

The fire, triggered by a pyrotechnics display during a GREAT WHITE concert, spread quickly after igniting the highly flammable foam that the nightclub had used as soundproofing.

Defense lawyers said they learned from the earlier interviews that 17 of the 21 panel members missed some testimony, and that one grand juror missed seven days. They said absent grand jurors received oral summaries of the testimony they missed instead of a tape or written transcript.

A lawyer for Jeffrey Derderian, Thomas Dickinson, told the judge some jurors may have missed evidence that might have caused them to vote against the indictments.

"There is a problem here, your honor, with the attendance records, and that problem is what causes us to need more information," he said.

The state argued the defense lawyers violated court rules by contacting the grand jurors.

Assistant Attorney General Randall White said the law does not require all grand jurors to attend each day of testimony, and that several jurors who returned the indictments had a perfect or near-perfect attendance record.

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