By City News Service
Relatives of four people who died alongside banda singer Jenni Rivera in a Mexico plane crash won a round in court today, when a judge denied a motion by the aircraft's owners to dismiss their lawsuit against the plane's owners on grounds it should have been brought in Mexico.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Holly Kendig found that Mark Velasquez, an attorney for Starwood Management LLC, had not shown Mexico also was a suitable location for trial for the other defendant in the case, Jenni Rivera Enterprises. Anthony Lopez, the lawyer for the late singer's company, filed court papers stating that California was a more appropriate location for trial.
"Starwood just didn't meet its moving burden," Kendig said.
Lawyers Paul Kiesel and Thomas Dempsey -- who represent the plaintiffs -- praised Kendig for her ruling and her analysis of the issues. They both said that beyond the fact the crash occurred in Mexico, everything else favored keeping the case in the U.S.
Dempsey said he believes that Rivera's heirs will soon file litigation of their own against Starwood Management, but that their attorneys were awaiting the outcome of today's motion.
"This was a very important hearing," Dempsey said.
Dempsey said the remains of the aircraft are in the United States for review by the National Transportation Safety Board as well as its manufacturer, Learjet. He said he does not know if the aircraft has been reconstructed.
Rivera and her entourage, along with two pilots, were killed last Dec. 9 when the plane crashed in the mountains of northern Mexico.
The Learjet LJ25 crashed about 3:30 a.m., 15 minutes after leaving Monterrey, Mexico, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. Rivera had just performed in Monterrey and was on her way to Mexico City to appear on the Mexican version of "The Voice."
Members of Rivera's entourage who died in the crash were her publicist, Arturo Rivera; makeup artist Jacobo Yebale; hairstylist Jorge Armando Sanchez Vasquez; and Mario Macias Pacheco, her attorney. Their relatives filed suit Jan. 10 and seeks economic damages for wrongful death and loss of support and punitive damages.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs maintain Starwood Management poorly maintained the aircraft. They suggested that the left wing of the plane suffered serious damage in a 2005 ground accident and may have contributed to the crash.
The plane was believed to have been flying somewhere between 28,000 and 35,000 feet just prior to beginning a nearly five-mile nosedive.
Officials with Las Vegas-based Starwood have insisted the plane was properly maintained. Company executive Christian Esquino Nunez has contended that Rivera was in the final stages of purchasing the airplane, and the fatal flight was intended as a "demo."
He claimed that the jet was in excellent condition and suggested the cause of the crash may have been a heart attack suffered by the pilot and the inability of 20-year-old co-pilot Alejandro Torres, to regain control of the plane. Torres was not certified to fly the particular Learjet model, according to the lawsuit.
Kiesel said Rivera Enterprises was named as a defendant in the suit because it is not yet clear whether someone with the company was responsible for booking the flight.
Rivera, 43, who lived in Encino at the time of her death, dominated the banda style of regional Mexican music popular in California and northwestern Mexico. She was one of the biggest stars on Mexico television and was popular on "regional Mexican" stations in California.
Rivera lived a tumultuous life, which was the basis for much of her music. She had been married and divorced three times, the last time from former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Esteban Loaiza.
The singer -- who sold more than 15 million records, sang songs of heartbreak and abuse. She had her own reality show and ABC was developing a comedy pilot for her, according to the entertainment website Deadline.com.