September 29, 2006

Judge Darigan and the Station Fire Victim Impact Statements

Carroll Andrew Morse

I wasn't intending to post anything on the Station fire victims' impact statements, but I feel the continuing judicial over-reaching by Judge Francis Darigan that now extends to today's proceedings requires comment. According to the Projo's 7-to-7 blog, Judge Darigan has told the victims that they cannot use their impact statements to comment on the legal process that has brought them to this point...

Jay McLaughlin, related to Sandy and Michael Hoogasian, said he felt a sense of "pain caused by disrespect, apathy, betrayal, all of which have victimized us over and over again."

McLaughlin, who is married to Michael Hoogasian's sister Paula, then criticized the sentence and Judge Francis Darigan called a recess. Darigan has told fire victims family members and friends to restrict their comments to memories of their loved ones and the effect their death has had on them.

Darigan told the people in the courtroom that he understands their frustration, but that the hearing isn't an opportunity for a diatribe against the proceeding.
He later allowed McLaughlin to return and continue.

Again, members of the audience applaued when McLaughlin finished. Darigan asked them to refrain.

Judge Darigan is out of line here. If he didn't want people to discuss the sentences in their statements, he shouldn't have decided on sentences before the statements were given. There are limits to how much reality judges can demand that people ignore.

In our system of government, judges are insulated from popular accountability. This is for a sound purpose, to give them the freedom they need to make decisions that are unpopular with the public but legally correct. But the protection of judges from popular passions was never intended to protect the type of action Judge Darigan took in accelerating the resolution of the Derderian brothers' case. The Judge was not making a decision that was legally necessary when he inserted himself directly into sentence negotiations and accepted a plea deal over the formal objection of the Attorney General.

This doesn't mean that Judge Darigan's decision was wrong, but it does make inappropriate his use of his judicial position to hide from and even stifle questions and criticism about his role in what happened. Had there been a trial, victims would have been allowed to comment in their impact statements on things said during the proceedings. Since Judge Darigan has gone far beyond adjudicating questions of law and made himself a substantive part of the resolution of this case, statements regarding his actions should be considered fair game.

If the final stage of a court proceeding isn't the appropriate forum for crime victims to discuss how the courts have failed or served them, then where is that place?


Prior to formally announcing the sentence, Judge Darigan is outlining in detail how the Derderian plea deal came about; he certainly can't be accused of hiding from describing his role in the disposition of the case at this moment. Why this information couldn't have been made public at the same time that the plea deal was announced is unclear. People may have had more confidence in the system if it had been.

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It is unimaginable that Darigan is censoring family members statements. First, he censored the evidence by not allowing a trial, now he is censoring family statement. RI should just abandon the entire American judicial system. We don't need a jury, a prosecutor or even hear from the victims. All we need is a single judge appointed for life who knows what's best for everyone.

I said it before, but I'll say it again: while it's convenient for Darigan to dismiss this case because "nobody really intended the deaths", let's not forget that Michael Derderian's first move was to grab the night's receipts after the fire broke out. Not look for a fire extinguisher. Not help his customers escape the fire. Not call the fire department. No, he grabbed the cash. And this guy isn't going to jail.

People can debate whether or not the Derderians knew about the foam. People can debate whether anyone knew that the pyro could be so dangerous.

But it is undebatable that Michael Derderian's first priority was not human life. It was the money. And for 100 lives, Michael Derderian got no jail time.

I wonder whether Derderian deposited the money from that night...?

Posted by: Anthony at September 29, 2006 2:19 PM

I mixed up the two Derderians. Jeff was the guy who took the dough and isn't going to jail, while Michael was out of state.

Posted by: Anthony at September 29, 2006 2:49 PM

Darigan and Lynch are just playing a game of good cop, bad cop. After all, the good and welfare of the victims and their families is runner-up to the good and welfare of the greedy politicians and corrupt officials who had good reason to fear a trial.

Posted by: rhody at September 29, 2006 3:47 PM


Hope you had a chance to hear Lou Pulner on with Dan Yorke today after this court case was finalized. Pulner is a lawyer here in Rhode Island and routinely appears before these judges including Darigan. He also does legal analysis for Channel 12 and WPRO.
Yorke kept trying to get Lou to go hip hip hooray because Darigan took full responsibility for the plea deal thus in Lynch lackey Yorke's mind taking Lynch off the hook.
Pulner not only didn't bite on the pro-Lynch bait Yorke was throwing out but said he's spoken to many colleagues and (I'm paraphrasing) "something here doesn't fit" meaning the way this case was disposed of.
Lawyers in our state smell something amiss here. It's not just us lay people who sense some funny business went on behind the scenes here.
Yorke then tried to get Pulner to take a swing at Derderian lawyer Kathy Haggerty by citing critical comments made towards her by former AG Jim O'Neill.
Pulner didn't bite there either instead he took a swing
at O'Neill by stating this being the big Democrat state it is with some it's "my AG right or wrong".
Had a really good belly laugh over that comment.
How true!
So very very refreshing to hear some straight talk for a change.
Lots of people got lots of problems with what's gone on here.

Posted by: Tim at September 29, 2006 7:24 PM

The sentencing charade was about the equivalent of watching a pre-recorded football game. Everything was choreographed excpet for what the family members would say, so Darigan restricted what they made sure to restrict what they could say.

Posted by: Anthony at September 29, 2006 8:49 PM

It was a little scary watching a judge abrogate justice to do "what's best for everyone".

Included in Darigan's comments today were two talking points straight from Patrick Lynch: that at least a law had been passed so that survivors would be legally recognized as victims (a law that Lynch got passed when he should have been doing rudimentary research on the culpability of the inspectors) and that not everybody was going to be satisfied, no matter the ultimate disposition of the cases. This is the refrain Lynch has been singing since January, 2004, to justify his mishandling of this case.

Worse even than that, however, was the judge's assertion that one good thing that came of this was the updating of the fire codes. How, how, how could he have said that? He of all people knows that the cause of the fire was not inadequacy of the fire code but the fact that it was not enforced. That he would use his considerable credibility to point to a completely erroneous cause of the fire is unspeakable.

Yes, Tim, two slivers of light in today's events was Pulner not being drawn into Yorke's faulty reasoning as well as his surprising news that this proceeding does not sit well with the lawyer community.

Posted by: SusanD at September 29, 2006 11:00 PM

So the WW Fire Marshall who had (from what I've read) inspected and passed this building on several occasions - shouldn't he bear some responsibility for this?
If the owners followed the law re: fire inspections and were - according to the fire marshall - in compliance at the time of this tragedy...
Shouldn't the fire marshall be in the dock to answer to charges of criminal negligence?
If not, why not?

Posted by: tomaig at September 30, 2006 10:50 AM

I also a a lawyer and I am acquainted with Lou Pulner. I agree with him there is something about the plea bargain that does not sit right. I have thought since the day the agreement was made public that the Attorney General is protesting too much.

As to Judge Darigan's attempts to keep the Victim Impact Statements on topic. It is a simple fact of life that is known to all lawyers: You can think what you want to think about the judge, you can hate his or her guts. But you can't dis the judge in their courtroom. The system demands decorum of all the players.

I don't think Judge Darigan was out of line. He is one of the real good ones, and he has earned the respect that lawyers give him. He did cut off people who were going out of their way to insult him. He can't allow that kind of talk in the courtroom, no matter how inflamed people feel.

That said, he toleratd a lot of very disrespectful comments. Believe me, no lawyer would dare say some of the things the surviving friends and relatives said yesterday.

Posted by: KH at September 30, 2006 2:37 PM


Posted by: rick e at September 30, 2006 6:42 PM

"Shouldn't the fire marshall be in the dock to answer to charges of criminal negligence?"

Yes, Tomaig, he and the other West Warwick safety officials who inspected the Station Club should be in the dock. That was the first and biggest mistake the Attorney General made in handling this case. He did not indict the person(s) most responsible for the crime.

"If not, why not?"

Because as with so many positions in Rhode Island local and state government, fire inspectors are political appointees. So Lynch would have ticked off his fellow Democrats in West Warwick and in the General Assembly if he had indicted the officials. Equally important, the fire inspectors are part of a larger group - public labor unions - that give political and financial support to Lynch's campaign. That, too, would have made it ... awkward if Lynch had indicted these men.

Posted by: SusanD at September 30, 2006 9:42 PM