Ghost Ship creative director Max Harris, 29, and master leaseholder Derick Almena, 48, who appeared in court wearing dark suits and with their hair in ponytails, have each been charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter for their roles in the underground venue and residence where the fire erupted during an electronic music event.
Harris' attorney, Curtis Briggs, argued that Schaaf's knowledge of institutional deficiencies in Oakland's code enforcement systems made her a crucial witness, but the mayor's counsel countered that her statements and policy decisions weren't relevant to the defendants' guilt or innocence.
Briggs, as well as Almena's attorney, Tony Serra, have argued that their clients are being unfairly scapegoated in order to deflect accountability away from city officials and property owner Chor Ng. They blame the property owner and city agencies for overlooking unsafe conditions, and subpoenaing Schaaf was seen as part of a defense strategy to diffuse responsibility.
Harris and Almena are the only individuals to face criminal charges stemming from the fire.
"Had the city inspected the property, these people wouldn't have died," Briggs said.
Thompson has prohibited the defense from using the terms "cover-up" and "scapegoat" during opening arguments.
"I understand it's their intention to assign blame elsewhere," Schaaf's attorney, Jonathan Bass, said of the defense, adding that "perhaps they're looking to berate [Schaaf] on the witness stand."