Judge Nixes Puffy Bid To Halt Negligence Trial [2000-05-16]

Salvatore Arena [New York Daily News]


Sean (Puffy) Combs’ attorneys failed yesterday to stop a multimillion-dollar negligence case against the embattled rap music mogul from going to trial this week.

The claim for damages was filed by two survivors of a deadly 1991 stairway stampede at City College during a celebrity basketball game Combs organized.

Nine young people died in the tragedy, and 29 were injured.

Combs, 30, sought to adjourn the case, which has been pending for seven years.

His attorney, Luke Pittoni, said publicity from Combs’ recent arrest for gun possession will make it hard for him to get a fair trial in the civil case. Combs was arrested Dec. 27 after three patrons were shot inside Club New York near Times Square.

“It’s going to be difficult to pick an impartial jury,” Pittoni complained.

But his request was denied by Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Martin Shulman, who already postponed the case several times.

“Nothing short of death is going to stop us from trying this case,” the judge said, and he directed both sides to begin picking a jury tomorrow.

The court order was good news for the two survivors, Nicole Levy and Benjamin Andrews.

Levy, 26, said she suffers from Graves’ disease, a stress-induced thyroid condition she claims is linked to the incident.

“Nicole is happy the case will finally be tried,” said her attorney, Peter De Filippis. “It’s been a long, tough road.”

Combs and his partner, rap performer Heavy D, have denied they were at fault, arguing that security for the event was the responsibility of City College.

Billed as an AIDS charity, the basketball game featured boxer Mike Tyson and several rap stars. It drew an estimated 5,000 fans to a facility that was designed to hold 2,730.

The event was staged by Combs, then a struggling hip hop promoter, and Heavy D, whose real name is Dwight Myers. Myers is a co- defendant in the case.

They are accused of overselling tickets and allowing their security force to close the only door to the gym, trapping hundreds on a stairwell as ticket holders on the street surged forward.