OAKLAND (Jeff Shuttleworth/BCN) - A judge on Friday denied a bid by Ghost Ship warehouse master tenant Derick Almena's lawyers to have him released on his own recognizance as he fights the charges against him for his role in the fire that killed 36 people at the Oakland warehouse district last December.
But Alameda County Superior Court Judge Kevin Murphy did agree to reduce the bail for Almena, 47, who faces 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the blaze at the warehouse at 1309 31st Ave. in Oakland's Fruitvale district on Dec. 2, from $1.08 million to $750,000.
That's the same amount that Murphy set last week for Ghost Ship warehouse creative director Max Harris, 27, who also faces 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter.
Attorneys for Almena and Harris, who appeared in court with Almena, said the two men aren't yet ready to enter pleas to the charges but will be prepared to do so at their next court appearance on Sept. 13. The attorneys said a preliminary hearing, which will determine if there's enough evidence against them to have them stand trial, also will be scheduled at that time.
effrey Krasnoff, one of three attorneys who represent Almena, said Almena should be released from custody or least have his bail reduced significantly because he has "a stable living situation to go back to" with his wife and their three children and he isn't a flight risk or a threat to the community.
Krasnoff admitted that several years ago Alameda County child protective services officials took the children from Almena and his wife, Micah Allison, because they were concerned about the children's safety.
But Krasnoff said Almena and his wife addressed all of the county officials' concerns and their children were returned to their care.
Krasnoff said Almena's actions "showed diligence in correcting the mistakes he had made in the past and to comply with the law."
Krasnoff said if Almena were released from custody he would be glad to comply with restrictions such as wearing a GPS monitor and not hosting any parties or musical events.
But prosecutor Autrey James said, "The reason we're here is that he (Almena) didn't follow restriction when he took over that building," referring to the warehouse, which allegedly was in violation of fire safety codes and other regulations.
James also said he's concerned about the safety of prosecution witnesses with whom Almena has clashed in the past, such as Nicholas Bouchard, who had been Almena's partner in managing the warehouse.
In addition, James said Almena "has not always been truthful with the government," referring to allegations that Almena misrepresented the conditions to Oakland officials who inspected the warehouse.
Murphy said he is setting Almena's bail at a high amount because he "has some concerns about him returning to court because he faces "a potentially very severe sentence" of more than 30 years in state prison if he's convicted.
After the hearing, Tony Serra, another attorney for Almena, said the $750,000 amount set by Murphy is "outrageous."
But Serra said Almena will still try to raise that amount even though he doesn't have much money by seeking help from his friends and supporters.
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley filed the involuntary manslaughter charges against Almena and Harris in June, saying their actions were "reckless" and created a high risk of death for the people who attended a dance party at the Ghost Ship Warehouse.
Murphy said that if Almena raises enough money and is freed on bail he would have to wear a GPS monitor and couldn't apply for a passport.