weather icon Partly Cloudy
RJ App
Vegas News, Alerts, ePaper

Lawyer for Alpine Motel Apartments sues over contempt order

Updated January 6, 2021 - 6:45 pm

The defense attorney for the owner of the Alpine Motel Apartments has filed a lawsuit against Las Vegas Justice Court and the judge presiding over an ongoing preliminary hearing.

In the case filed Monday, Dominic Gentile asked Clark County District Court to reconsider Justice of the Peace Ann Zimmerman’s decision to hold an investigator on the defense team in contempt of court for refusing to testify in the hearing, which stems from a deadly fire.

Gentile, who represents owner Adolfo Orozco, seeks a ruling that Zimmerman “abused her discretion” when she held Don Dibble in contempt. While on the stand Oct. 27, Dibble declined to answer questions about his interview with the complex’s manager, Malinda Mier, “in which she essentially confessed to her involvement in the crimes charged,” court records show.

Orozco and Mier are charged in the 2019 blaze that killed six residents, injured 13 more and left dozens displaced the week before Christmas.

Each faces one count of manslaughter for each of the victims, one count of destroying or concealing evidence, and 15 counts of performance of an act or neglect of duty in disregard of safety resulting in substantial bodily harm or death.

Orozco also faces four counts of using a deadly weapon to prevent or dissuade a witness or victim from reporting a crime.

In the lawsuit, Gentile argues that state law protected Dibble from testifying because prosecutors only knew about the interview after being provided Dibble’s written statement about it during a plea negotiation meeting held in June. He said enabling the state to call a member of the defense team as its witness in a multi-defendant case empowered the state to disqualify the defense counsel and could affect other cases.

“In the future, a competent and ethical defense lawyer will be placed on the horns of a dilemma in deciding whether to disclose information that he believes will result in a favorable outcome and avoidance of trial,” Gentile wrote.

Zimmerman denied a motion last month asking her to reconsider, saying she “will be interested in the higher court’s decision.” She also suspended Dibble’s penalty until the defense could exhaust its appeal of her ruling.

According to court documents, Dibble interviewed Mier on June 9 — before she was the subject of the criminal investigation into the fire.

Orozco also had not been charged on June 18, when Gentile met with Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson and other prosecutors to “discuss the options, ranging from no charges being filed to who would be charged and including the possibility of the business entity entering a plea agreement,” court records show.

At that point, Gentile submitted to the district attorney’s office a package of documents collected during the defense’s investigation, including the report from Dibble.

During a second meeting, on July 25, Wolfson told Gentile that both Orozco and Mier would face charges as individuals but not Orozco’s business, Las Vegas Dragon Hotel LLC, the records said.

Neither Mier nor her attorney was invited to or present at either meeting.

Prosecutor John Giordani has disagreed with the defense in court, arguing that Dibble’s interview did not occur during any negotiations and that the testimony would not be used in the prosecution of Orozco.

“This document was provided to us,” Giordani said. “There was no agreement that it could not be used in any derivative form or fashion. And it’s certainly admissible evidence against Ms. Mier.”

But, Gentile wrote in his court filing Monday, “But for that report being provided to the state during those negotiations, the state would have no knowledge of it.”

Zimmerman said Wednesday that the preliminary hearing, which started in mid-August, would continue only after there has been a District Court ruling on the matter.

Contact Briana Erickson at berickson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5244. Follow @ByBrianaE on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.