The Nevada Supreme Court has affirmed a lower court’s decision to hold an investigator working for the Alpine Motel Apartments owner’s defense team in contempt of court during a preliminary hearing more than two years ago.
Don Dibble was first found in contempt of court during October 2020, when he refused to testify during a preliminary hearing regarding criminal charges filed against the Alpine’s owner, Adolfo Orozco, and the complex’s manager, Malinda Mier.
After Dibble was found in contempt, Orozco’s defense attorney, Dominic Gentile, filed a lawsuit against the Las Vegas Justice Court and the judge presiding over the preliminary hearing.
The District Court upheld the Zimmerman’s decision, and Gentile filed an appeal with the Supreme Court in June 2021. The higher court upheld the previous decisions in an order filed on Dec. 22.
Attorney to ask for re-hearing
Gentile said Thursday that he plans to appeal the order from the state Supreme Court.
“I’m seeking a re-hearing to have the Supreme Court reconsider its decision,” Gentile said.
As of Thursday afternoon, he has not filed any court documents requesting a reconsideration.
Meanwhile, the criminal proceedings have been on hold since the preliminary hearing ceased more than two years ago. A new hearing is scheduled on Jan. 10, for prosecutors to argue for the judge to set a date for the preliminary hearing to resume, court records show.
It’s been more than three years since the Dec. 21, 2019, deadly fire at the downtown apartment complex that left six dead, 13 injured and nearly 50 people without shelter. Orozco and Mier face multiple criminal charges in connection with the fire, including six counts each of involuntary manslaughter.
Dibble had refused to testify about an interview he conducted with Mier, who is not represented by Gentile. Prosecutors have wrote in court documents that during the interview, Mier “essentially confessed to her involvement in the crimes charged.”
The conversation was part of an investigation Dibble helped with prior to a meeting between Orozco’s attorney and the Clark County district attorney’s office, in which the attorneys discussed whether Orozco would be charged in connection with the fire.
Mier was not charged until after the meeting between prosecutors and Orozco’s attorney.
Gentile has argued in court documents that state law protected Dibble from testifying, because prosecutors only knew about the conversation with Mier after they were provided documents during the plea negotiation hearing.
However, the Supreme Court ruled that state law protecting privileged communication does not extend to statements made by people other than the accused or the accused’s attorneys, and does not protect statements made outside of plea negotiation meetings.
“Mier was not involved in the Orozco-Garcia pre-charge meeting, nor had she been charged at that time,” the Supreme Court justices wrote in the order. “Thus, Mier’s statement to Dibble was not ‘evidence of a plea of guilty’ as she had no ‘expectation of negotiating a plea at the time of discussion’ and she was not ‘an accused’ when she made the statement.”
The justices also wrote that there is no evidence showing that Dibble testifying about the interview would implicate Orozco or potentially raise “co-defendant testimony issues” or “right to counsel concerns.”
Separate from criminal proceedings, at least 15 lawsuits filed in the aftermath of the fire have been consolidated into a single case naming nearly 20 defendants, including Orozco, Mier and companies accused of failing to maintain the building’s fire alarm system.
Robert Eglet, an attorney representing multiple plaintiffs, told the Review-Journal earlier this month that the case has been going through the mediation process and may be close to reaching a resolution.