Lawyers will seek to shift blame for warehouse fire at trial

Legal Analysis

Lawyers for the two men charged in the Northern California warehouse fire that killed 36 people said Friday they are now preparing for a trial where they will try to shift blame for the blaze from their clients to others, including the building's owner and government officials.

Derick Almena, 48, and Max Harris, 28, on Friday appeared briefly in an Oakland courtroom for the first time since a judge scuttled a plea deal agreed to by prosecutors. They were ordered back to court in three weeks to schedule a trial.

Outside court, the men's lawyers say there's plenty of blame to share for the Dec. 2, 2016, fire in an Oakland warehouse illegally converted into an underground entertainment venue and live-work space for artists. The cause of the fire has never been determined, which the lawyers said is key part of the men's defense.

Serra also said numerous government officials visited the illegally converted warehouse before the fire, and they had a duty to report the building's condition to authorities. Almena lived in the warehouse with his wife and three children and were visited by Alameda County's Child Protective Services officials several times. Oakland police officers were also called to the warehouse on several occasions to investigate noise complaints and tenant disputes, among other issues.

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