Judge Orders Sugarland Singer To Testify In April

An Indiana judge ordered lead singer Jennifer Nettles of the country duo Sugarland on Friday to give a deposition next month in lawsuits filed over August’s deadly Indiana State Fair stage collapse – testimony that will focus on whether the band resisted delaying the start of their concert despite threatening weather.

Photo: AP Photo
Nobel Peace Prize Concert, Oslo Spektrum Arena ANS, Oslo, Norway

Attorneys for stage roof and rigging builder Mid-America Sound Corp. had wanted Nettles and fellow band member Kristian Bush to begin providing depositions starting Monday in lawsuits the company faces in the Aug. 13 collapse that killed seven people and injured 58 others.

But Marion Superior Court Judge Theodore Sosin approved a request Friday by Sugarland’s attorneys to reject that timetable and ordered them to provide by Tuesday dates and times between April 1 and April 15 in which only Nettles would testify.

Sosin also directed Sugarland’s attorneys to provide Mid-America with details of the band’s insurance policy.

Sugarland’s attorneys had proposed holding depositions in May, contending that the band members are busy preparing for a five-month tour that begins in April. But James Milstone, an attorney for the band’s ownership company, Lucky Star Inc., told the judge under questioning that he could not provide a precise date in May when Nettles could give a deposition.

Sosin told Milstone that was unacceptable and said he needed to produce exact dates when she can be deposed.

“I don’t understand why the whole world must stand still because your client is going on tour,” the judge told Milstone before issuing his order for Nettles’ deposition.

Sosin also directed that Nettles’ initial deposition next month would focus on whether she was aware of conversations fair officials purportedly had the night of the stage collapse with Sugarland representatives over delaying the concert’s start.

Milstone declined to comment following the hearing, as did Robert MacGill, an attorney for Mid-America.

But Sugarland spokesman Allan Mayer said in a statement that, “Sugarland is aware of the judge’s ruling and of course intends to cooperate.”

Mid-America built the roof and rigging used to hold lights and sound equipment that collapsed before the scheduled Sugarland concert as high winds ahead of a thunderstorm swept the fairgrounds. The company is being sued by the estates of three of the people who died and three people who were injured.

In a Jan. 16 deposition on one of the lawsuits targeting Mid-America, Indiana State Fair Commission Executive Director Cindy Hoye testified that Sugarland resisted delaying the start of the concert despite threatening weather. Hoye said the band expressed concerns about how a delay would affect the time Nettles needed to warm up and complicate the band’s travel to its next show in Iowa the following day.

“They said they did not want to delay. We want to know what Jennifer Nettles has to say about that event,” MacGill told Sosin.

MacGill said it’s important for the company to get that information before an April 17 meeting during which some of the parties in the numerous lawsuits filed over the collapse have agreed to discuss possible settlements.

Valparaiso attorney Kenneth J. Allen, who has filed lawsuits on behalf of the stage collapse victims, said the question of whether the band members were involved in those discussions is a key part of determining what happened the night of the collapse.

“Certainly there’s a lot of fault to go around in this case. However, having said that, Ms. Nettles and Mr. Bush are at the top of the decision tree. They had the opportunity to postpone this and chose not to. We need to know why and whether there was a legitimate reason,” Allen said.

Sugarland’s attorneys have called the high winds that toppled the stage rigging an “act of God” and denied the band had any responsibility for the stage construction or to warn fans.