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With the two-year statute of limitations almost up, lawyers representing victims of New Jersey’s Seton Hall University dormitory fire are working frantically to find parties to sue. The fire, which authorities believe was intentionally started, broke out in the Boland Hall dormitory on Jan. 19, 2000, killing three students and injuring 58 others. Seton Hall, which enjoys charitable immunity from suit, has settled out of court with some of the plaintiffs. Still, lawyers contemplate suits against other people who may have contributed to the conflagration — the arsonists, the maker of the sofa that ignited and any other potentially responsible parties. The best sources of that information are the reports of investigations, now in the hands of the Essex County, N.J., Prosecutor’s Office. Getting the investigatory authorities to talk hasn’t been easy, partly because a criminal prosecution has been proceeding at the same time. On Oct. 11, they began presenting evidence to a grand jury that will be empaneled for 20 weeks. Plaintiffs’ lawyers don’t have the luxury of waiting. On Oct. 13, the lawyer for dormitory counselor Dana Christmas of Paterson, N.J., filed a suit to compel the prosecutor’s office to give access to confidential fire investigation files. On Oct. 31, student Kenneth DeShawn Simons of Newark, N.J., filed a motion to invervene, and Paul Fino of Manhattan’s White, Fleischner & Fino, who represents injured student Alvaro Llanos of Paterson says he will file a similar motion. Cynthia Matheke, who represents Christmas, says she has to show due diligence even if the request is futile. “I don’t want anyone to say we’ve slipped on our rights if we have to file against a John Doe arsonist,” says Matheke, a partner with Lum, Danzis, Drasco, Positan & Kleinberg in Roseland, N.J. Her co-counsel and partner, Michael Nestor, says that the prosecutor’s help would obviate filing a John Doe complaint and amending it repeatedly as discovery unfolds. “Judicial economy will not be fostered and it is anticipated that, inevitably, motions to dismiss will be filed by later identified ‘John Does’ who feel they have been identified untimely,” Nestor writes in his brief. However, the suit against the prosecutor’s office will have to be withdrawn, Matheke says, because a Lum Danzis conflict check revealed that the firm has done some civil work for the office. Simons’ lawyer, Morristown, N.J., solo practitioner Stephen S. Weinstein, said he was unsure how the withdrawal affects the posture of his motion to intervene.

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