U.S. District Judge Ronald Lagueux ruled on Monday, however, that the Derderians cannot be deposed and do not have to answer more detailed questions from victims' lawyers at this point.
The brothers and Daniel Biechele, the former manager for the rock band Great White, each face 200 counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the Feb. 20, 2003, fire at the West Warwick nightclub.
The fire started when pyrotechnics set off by Biechele ignited highly flammable foam that the Derderians had installed as soundproofing at the nightclub. One hundred people were killed and more than 200 injured. All three defendants have pleaded innocent to the criminal charges.
In court Monday, the Derderians' civil lawyer, Anthony DeMarco, argued that forcing the Derderians to respond to the civil suits at this point would jeopardize their right to a fair trial in the criminal case.
Many of the survivors and the victims' families have filed civil suits seeking damages for their losses.
DeMarco argued that the allegations against the brothers in those lawsuits - that they contributed to overcrowding at their nightclub, installed defective, flammable material in the club, violated state law regarding pyrotechnics, and failed to provide proper exits and lighting at the club - are the same allegations that their criminal case is based on.
If the Derderians were required to answer the lawsuits at this point, he says in court papers, they would have to assert their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, and this could hurt their defense in the lawsuits.
But Steven Minicucci, one of the lawyers representing the fire victims, said those filing suits could be irreparably harmed if the civil case against the Derderians was put on hold until after the criminal case was over.
Even if a jury were to determine that the Derderians were liable for monetary damages in the civil cases, they do not have sufficient money to compensate all the victims, so the plaintiffs need to seek out every possible defendant, Minicucci said.
As owners of the nightclub for the three years preceding the fire, the Derderians are in a position to give the civil lawyers information that could lead them to parties with bigger pockets that could be sued for damages, he said.
Minicucci also said that the civil lawyers need to learn from the Derderians the extent of their interactions with West Warwick town officials and the promoters of the Great White concert at The Station. The civil lawyers also want the Derderians to provide them with a list of prior employees who might have evidence about construction materials at the club.
If they have to wait until after the criminal trial to get information from the brothers, the civil statute of limitations might pass, which would make it impossible for them to add additional defendants to the civil suits, Minicucci said.
Lagueux said he thought it was unreasonable for the Derderians to delay answering the civil suits until their criminal case was over. He ordered them to respond, acknowledging that they might very well take the Fifth Amendment and refuse to answer some of the allegations against them.
But the judge said that at this point, he was not going to allow the civil lawyers to depose the brothers or to force them to answer questions in the form of interrogatories posed by the lawyers as part of the pretrial discovery process.