Hearing to continue murder case for teen | VailDaily.com

Hearing to continue murder case for teen

EAGLE — A Gypsum teen who allegedly killed his father last month will continue to be held at a youth detention facility in Jefferson County. The youth, whose name this newspaper isn't publishing because of his age, allegedly shot his father, Joseph Kelly, on or around April 30. That was the day the boy and Kelly were set to meet with police regarding a graffiti incident. According to police, the youth then spent several days home alone with his father's body before officers came to the home on May 5. The youth allegedly called the father's workplace several days in a row, reporting the man as sick in bed. When officers went to the home for a "welfare check," they discovered the body and the boy, who was arrested on suspicion of first-degree murder. Monday was the boy's second appearance in District Judge Fred Gannett's courtroom. The public section of the room was not quite half-full, with the audience including his mother and people from the boy's school. Gannett thanked those in the audience for attending, but also admonished those in the gallery to remain quiet during proceedings. He also told those present that there won't be much to see during the hearings. "Most of the hard work is done outside this room," Gannett said. That was the case Monday, as Gannett, attorneys and others met outside the courtroom for about 45 minutes before the hearing began. Once back inside the courtroom, Gannett ruled on a handful of motions that have already been filed in the case. The biggest issue Monday was whether the boy will continue to be held at Mount View. He will, with Gannett ruling that he presents a "danger to himself or others." Gannett also cautioned attorneys on both sides of the case not to discuss the case with anyone else, although he did not issue a "gag order." Attorney Dana Christiansen, who's representing the youth through the Colorado Public Defender's office, asked Gannett to seal any records that might be created as the young suspect is evaluated at the youth detention facilities. Gannett said no evaluations have yet been ordered that might apply to the case; the only such work being done right now is what is normally done at Mount View. Still, he said, he would keep those documents sealed pending his own review. Gannet said given the seriousness of the crime, there will surely be a lot of hearings. Those hearings will be held on Mondays, in the afternoons after the rest of that day's juvenile cases have been heard. The next hearing is set for June 2 at 2 p.m.

Vail avalanche death case on hold as judge denies motion to disqualify himself

EAGLE — Colorado’s Supreme Court will decide if the judge in a teenager’s skier-death case will be replaced. Thirteen-year-old Taft Conlin died Jan. 22, 2012, in an avalanche on Prima Cornice on the front side of Vail Mountain. A civil suit brought by Conlin’s parents against Vail Resorts claiming negligence and the wrongful death of their son was scheduled to begin on Aug. 7 in District Court but will be postponed as the Colorado Supreme Court sorts out a request to disqualify the judge hearing the case. Jim Heckbert, attorney for Conlin’s parents, local veterinarians Dr. Louise Ingalls and Dr. Stephen Conlin, are asking that District Court Judge Fred Gannett be disqualified. Heckbert claims some of Gannett’s statements during a hearing indicate the judge has prejudged the case. Vail Resorts attorneys Hugh Gottschalk and Craig May disagreed with the request to disqualify Gannett. “Plaintiffs may disagree with these comments and the court’s view of the proper scope of evidence, but the court’s comments are insufficient to warrant recusal,” they wrote in their response. Gottschalk and May wrote that the plaintiffs “simply disagree with some of the court’s pretrial rulings,” calling it the equivalent of “working the ref.” Evidence or not? In a July 11 hearing, Gannett and Heckbert went back and forth about evidence the jury would be allowed to hear, including the number of witnesses who would be allowed to testify about hiking up Prima Cornice. In his motion to disqualify Gannett, Heckbert claims some of Gannett’s statements and responses indicated he has prejudged the case. In his ruling, Gannett insisted the “discussions were clearly theoretical … for and against the relevance and admissibility of particular evidence.” “That this purpose was apparently not clear to plaintiffs is regrettable, but not the basis for disqualification,” Gannett wrote in his ruling. Gannett denied Heckbert’s request on Wednesday, and Heckbert appealed it to the Colorado Supreme Court on Thursday. If the Colorado Supreme Court agrees to hear the case, everything stops while the state’s High Court sorts it out. In the meantime, Gannett vacated the Aug. 7 trial date, pending the state Supreme Court’s decision. Vail’s line in the snow? On Jan. 22, 2012, around 1 p.m., Taft Conlin was on telemark skis when he and five young skiers entered the lower Prima Cornice area through an open gate looking for fresh snow, according to a Colorado Avalanche Information Center report. A rope blocked the gate at the top of the Prima Cornice run. Several others had skied onto Prima Cornice that Sunday, after one of that winter’s rare storms dropped new snow, the report said. “It looked like an interstate highway going up that trail that day,” Heckbert said. Three of those skiers sidestepped about 120 feet up the hill and to the south, the CAIC report said. Those three were caught in a 300-foot-wide avalanche that slid 400 feet down the slope. Two dug themselves out and quickly skied to the bottom of Northwoods Express for help. The avalanche carried Conlin through a spruce forest until he came to rest against a tree, upside down. Eagle County Coroner Kara Bettis said Conlin was killed by blunt force trauma to his chest.

Judge in Bryant case somewhat of a maverick

EAGLE – The woman stood uneasily at a courtroom podium, facing up to 10 years in jail for a car accident that left two people dead. Eagle County Judge Frederick Gannett sentenced her to one year of probation, warned her to be careful driving and offered his condolences. “”There’s nothing I can say to you that will make that death less powerful to you and to all the people affected by it,” he said, speaking slowly so a Spanish interpreter could keep pace. “”It does not appear that putting you in jail for what appears to be a moment of inattention would serve the public.” It was a show of compassion lawyers say is typical of Gannett, who will be under heavy scrutiny as he handles the Oct. 9 preliminary hearing in the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case. “”He will take his duty seriously and be fair to both sides,” former District Attorney Mike Goodbee said. Gannett (pronounced GANN-it) wears sports sandals and golf vests beneath his black robe, and is a bit of a maverick. He has chatted with reporters outside the courthouse, eavesdropped on logistics meetings and even helped move furniture in his 68-seat courtroom to prepare for hearings. “”Of all the cases that he’s ever handled, and I’ve handled numerous cases in front of him, I never walked away and said, “Gee, he’s been unfair,”’ Edwards attorney Jim Fahrenholtz said. “”If you’re wrong he tells you and if you’re right he tells you. He’s a real straight player and has a real fair sense of justice.” Pictures of Gannett, with his tousled mane of dark hair, salt-and-pepper beard and reading glasses, have been splashed across televisions and newspapers around the world. He seems bemused by the attention the case has received. “”This is a very fast event for so much attention,” Gannett said near the end of Bryant’s first appearance Wednesday, a seven-minute hearing that drew hundreds of reporters, photographers and citizens. After the hearing, he told reporters outside that the character the case is developing was “”is one of an extraordinary flurry of paper.” Bryant, 24, was charged after a 19-year-old woman accused him of raping her June 30 at a resort lodge in nearby Edwards where she worked. He has said the sex was consensual. Gannett will handle the case through the preliminary hearing. If it proceeds to state district court for trial, a new judge will be appointed. Gannett, 49, declined to be interviewed for this story. He said he believed more attention should be paid to the effect the Bryant case was having on the town and county. Born in 1953, Gannett earned his law degree at Oregon’s Willamette University in the mid-1980s. He is married but has no children. An avid reader and golfer who travels overseas frequently, Gannett helped build his log home in Basalt, and often showed up in court with black-and-blue fingernails during construction, Fahrenholtz recalled. For a time, Gannett played first base on a lawyers’ softball team that each year played a grudge match against police officers. Gannett was a Pitkin County sheriff’s deputy before being appointed an Eagle County judge in 1987. He served until 1993, and then went into private practice. In 2002, he was reappointed to the Eagle County bench. He also was a municipal judge in Basalt and Vail. “”I think primarily the reason Fred left the bench the first time was because he felt he was becoming hardened to the realities of the human element that was in front of him, and didn’t want to do his job that way,” Goodbee said. County judges hear civil cases up to $15,000, and traffic, restraining order, small claims and misdemeanor cases. They also handle felony cases through the preliminary hearing stage. Since the charge was filed against Bryant on July 18, Gannett has handled requests from both sides and a team of lawyers representing media organizations that want him to unseal investigative records. He also has made efforts to ensure the public can hear what goes on in the courtroom by granting live access to cameras and setting aside seats for reporters. He was criticized by some First Amendment experts when he threatened to evict reporters from the courtroom if their organizations violated an order prohibiting publication of the accuser’s name or image. And he refused to excuse the NBA star from the initial hearing, saying he thought Bryant’s appearance was vital. “”It’s not a show, it’s not for this event, or for this audience. That’s really how Fred is,” Goodbee said.

Local teen pleads guilty to shooting his dad

EAGLE — A 14-year-old Gypsum boy admitted on Tuesday that he shot his father twice in the head, killing him, and then holed up in the house for six days with the body. District Court Judge Fred Gannett called it the most "significant" juvenile case he has handled. Guilty plea The boy sat quietly and still during Tuesday's plea hearing, looking at Gannett as he answered each of the judge's questions. After he pleaded guilty and the hearing was done and the courtroom thinned out, he smiled softly when his mother was allowed to sit beside him at the defendant's table and talk for a while before he was taken back to jail, where he'll spend the next 10 years. The teen, dressed in green jail-issued cotton pants and a black T-shirt, sat at the defendant's table, flanked by his two attorneys from the public defender's office, Reed Owens and Ann Roan. His close-cropped hair was 6 inches shorter than it was during his first court appearance in April. A counselor made her way to the table and kneeled down beside him, her left arm over his shoulders as she spoke quietly with him. Gannett questioned him as gently as he could in a murder case. "Is that your signature?" Gannett asked, holding up the guilty plea form. "Yes, sir," he answered. "Did you understand what you were signing?" "Yes, sir." "It says you affected or caused the death of another person? Do you understand that?" "Yes, sir." If he were an adult, 18 or older, it would be a Class 1 felony, first-degree murder, Gannett said. The boy said he understood what he was admitting. "How do you plead?" Gannett asked. "Guilty," the boy said. 10 years plus parole Prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed to a plea deal that will put the boy behind bars for the next 10 years — seven years in youth prison and three years in adult prison. He will be released from youth corrections on his 21st birthday, Oct. 16, and be transferred to adult prison. After that, he will be on parole for two years. The boy is now 14 years old. He was 13 when he shot his father, and he celebrated a birthday in juvenile prison. The boy's grandparents — his father's parents — objected to the sentence, saying it was too harsh, Roan said. He'll be officially sentenced at 9 a.m. Thursday in Gannett's courtroom. The crime The saga began on April 30, when the victim, the boy's father, was scheduled to meet with Eagle County sheriff's deputies to discuss a graffiti investigation in which the boy was a suspect. The father didn't show up. He also did not show up for work at his job with Eagle County. Early Monday morning, six days after missing that meeting with investigators and three days of work, the father's employer contacted the Eagle County Sheriff's Office. The employer told deputies that the man's juvenile son had called in several days in a row, stating that his father was ill and would not be at work. Undersheriff Mike McWilliam said it seemed suspicious, so deputies stopped by to make sure everything was OK. It wasn't. When deputies arrived around 11:30 a.m., the boy answered the door and told deputies that his 50-year-old father was dead in the residence. His father was shot twice in the head with a .22 caliber rifle, once in the back of the head, and again with the gun's muzzle against his father's temple, said Eagle County Coroner Kara Bettis. Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

Vail avalanche death case on hold as judge denies motion to disqualify himself

EAGLE — Colorado’s Supreme Court will decide if the judge in a teenager’s skier-death case will be replaced. Thirteen-year-old Taft Conlin died Jan. 22, 2012, in an avalanche on Prima Cornice on the front side of Vail Mountain. A civil suit brought by Conlin’s parents against Vail Resorts claiming negligence and the wrongful death of their son was scheduled to begin on Aug. 7 in District Court but will be postponed as the Colorado Supreme Court sorts out a request to disqualify the judge hearing the case. Jim Heckbert, attorney for Conlin’s parents, local veterinarians Dr. Louise Ingalls and Dr. Stephen Conlin, are asking that District Court Judge Fred Gannett be disqualified. Heckbert claims some of Gannett’s statements during a hearing indicate the judge has prejudged the case. Vail Resorts attorneys Hugh Gottschalk and Craig May disagreed with the request to disqualify Gannett. “Plaintiffs may disagree with these comments and the court’s view of the proper scope of evidence, but the court’s comments are insufficient to warrant recusal,” they wrote in their response. Gottschalk and May wrote that the plaintiffs “simply disagree with some of the court’s pretrial rulings,” calling it the equivalent of “working the ref.” Evidence or not? In a July 11 hearing, Gannett and Heckbert went back and forth about evidence the jury would be allowed to hear, including the number of witnesses who would be allowed to testify about hiking up Prima Cornice. In his motion to disqualify Gannett, Heckbert claims some of Gannett’s statements and responses indicated he has prejudged the case. In his ruling, Gannett insisted the “discussions were clearly theoretical … for and against the relevance and admissibility of particular evidence.” “That this purpose was apparently not clear to plaintiffs is regrettable, but not the basis for disqualification,” Gannett wrote in his ruling. Gannett denied Heckbert’s request on Wednesday, and Heckbert appealed it to the Colorado Supreme Court on Thursday. If the Colorado Supreme Court agrees to hear the case, everything stops while the state’s High Court sorts it out. In the meantime, Gannett vacated the Aug. 7 trial date, pending the state Supreme Court’s decision. Vail’s line in the snow? On Jan. 22, 2012, around 1 p.m., Taft Conlin was on telemark skis when he and five young skiers entered the lower Prima Cornice area through an open gate looking for fresh snow, according to a Colorado Avalanche Information Center report. A rope blocked the gate at the top of the Prima Cornice run. Several others had skied onto Prima Cornice that Sunday, after one of that winter’s rare storms dropped new snow, the report said. “It looked like an interstate highway going up that trail that day,” Heckbert said. Three of those skiers sidestepped about 120 feet up the hill and to the south, the CAIC report said. Those three were caught in a 300-foot-wide avalanche that slid 400 feet down the slope. Two dug themselves out and quickly skied to the bottom of Northwoods Express for help. The avalanche carried Conlin through a spruce forest until he came to rest against a tree, upside down. Eagle County Coroner Kara Bettis said Conlin was killed by blunt force trauma to his chest.

Alleged victim won’t testify at Bryant prelim

The Eagle County woman accusing Kobe Bryant of rape won’t have to testify at next week’s preliminary hearing, a judge ruled Thursday. Eagle County Court Judge Fred Gannett issued a series of rulings that appears as nearly a clean sweep for the district attorney. “We hope this will minimize her trauma in this legal process,” said district attorney spokeswoman Krista Flannigan. Gannett’s ruling excuses Bryant’s alleged victim from testifying at the preliminary hearing. He also ruled that the preliminary hearing is to be open to the public and the press, and that there will be accommodations for additional media in an adjoining courtroom for an audio feed. “The ruling came down absolutely as expected,” said local attorney Bruce Carey. Gannett said testimony from the alleged victim is not necessary to decide whether there is enough evidence to send Bryant to trial. He ruled that testimony from Eagle County Sheriff’s Detective Doug Winters should be sufficient for him to make his decision whether to send the case on to District Court for trial. “The preliminary hearing is not a mini trial, and is not to be used as a discovery device by either side,” wrote Gannett. “It is not necessary at this stage of the proceedings that the prosecution show beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed a crime; nor is it necessary to show the probability of the defendant’s conviction.” The standard of proof is low at the preliminary hearing stage to send a case to District Court for trial. Also Gannett passed on to District Court the defense attorneys’ requests for Bryant’s alleged victim’s medical records. Gannett reasoned that the District Court will have to live with the decision, so that’s where the decision should be made. District Court is also where the decision will be made about whether the records will be admitted at the trial. It’s not over, or open, yet Gannett scheduled two status conferences for next week, one Tuesday morning and one at 12:15 p.m. Thursday, just 45 minutes before the preliminary hearing is scheduled to begin. At the Thursday conference with Gannett, District Attorney Mark Hurlbert and Bryant’s defense attorneys Pamela Mackey and Hal Haddon will hammer out the final details on what will be presented at that day’s preliminary hearing. It’s also where Gannett will make his final decision on whether some, or all of the preliminary hearing will be closed – depending on the evidence to be presented. Right now, the preliminary heading is scheduled to be open to the public. In his ruling, Gannett reserved the right to change that. It’s also possible that as late as just prior to the beginning of that preliminary hearing, Bryant’s attorneys could decide to waive the preliminary hearing and go straight to trial. Both of those decisions – the defense’s decision whether to waive the preliminary hearing, and Gannett’s final decision whether to close some or all of it – won’t be made until after that Thursday conference. No matter whether the preliminary hearing is waived and the proceeding becomes a simple bond hearing, Gannett said Bryant is required to show up next Thursday. Bryant, who faces up to life in prison on his sexual assault charge, is free on $25,000 bond. He currently is in preseason training camp in Hawaii with the Los Angeles Lakers. The evidence: what’s in, what’s out Hurlbert’s presentation of evidence will be more abbreviated than he recently described. He will put Det. Doug Winters on the stand, who will lay out some of the evidence, including summaries of the alleged victim’s statements, witness testimony and physical evidence. Besides Winters’ testimony, the district attorney will also present photographs of the alleged victim’s injuries. Gannett must still rule on whether or not those photographs will be available to the public, or whether they’ll be sealed. The district attorney had planned to present a videotaped statement by the alleged victim, as well as an audio tape recorded while sheriff’s investigators were questioning Bryant the evening after he allegedly raped the 19-year-old Eagle woman. That video tape and audio tape won’t be played at the preliminary hearing. In his ruling on that matter, Gannett expressed concern that the unedited audio and video tapes could prejudice potential jurors. “The court, at a status conference, expressed its concern that the unedited video and audio that the unedited video and audio tapes would contain similar irrelevant and prejudicial material as was contained in the sealed affidavits,” wrote Gannett. District Attorney Mark Hurlbert told Gannett that he would withdraw the tapes from the prosecution’ presentation, in the event the preliminary hearing remains open. That leaves the still photographs of the alleged victim’s injuries and Winters’ testimony to present next Thursday. Gannett wrote that the video and audio tapes include evidence that goes beyond the evidence necessary for him to make a decision whether to bind the case over for trial. He said that information may be prejudicial to Bryant’s right to a fair trial. Beyond that, local attorneys said the tapes might not help either side’s case. “Prosecutors learned from the Rodney King case that you don’t want your star witness’ performance broken down frame by frame on national television,” said local attorney David Lugert. “You don’t want endless analysis of every eyelash twitch.” And defense attorneys might not want something floating around for months in the public consciousness that indicates what Bryant might have done. Judge Gannett’s ruling – The woman Kobe Bryant allegedly raped won’t have to testify at the preliminary hearing. – Gannett deferred a decision to District Court about whether the alleged victim’s medical records will be provided to defense attorneys. Gannett reasoned that since the District Court will have to live with the decision, it should make the decision. – The preliminary hearing is to be open to the public and the press. There will also be an additional courtroom with an audio feed to accommodate some of the media who did not get a seat in Gannett’s courtroom. Absolutely no video or audio recording devices will be allowed. It’s still not final, though. Gannett won’t decide whether to close some, or all of the preliminary hearing, and defense attorneys won’t make a final decision whether to waive the preliminary hearing until they finish a conference next Thursday morning.

Rulings expected soon in Bryant case

Judge Fred Gannett said Monday that he expects to issue one overriding ruling by Thursday. Because most of the avalanche of legal actions is interrelated, Gannett said he will try to encompass into his ruling most of the subpoenas and motions by Bryant’s defense attorneys, as well as motions by the District Attorney’s Office to quash those subpoenas. Gannett met in his chambers Monday morning with attorneys from the defense, the prosecution and the media. Among other issues, that meeting dealt with a media request to use an adjoining courtroom for an audio feed during Bryant’s Oct. 9 preliminary hearing. Only a couple of dozen members of the media will be seated in Gannett’s courtroom during the preliminary hearing. Media attorney Chris Beall hopes to accommodate much more media in an adjoining courtroom with an audio feed of what’s happening during Bryant’s preliminary hearing. Gannett said he turned over to attorneys for all sides the actual work of hammering out agreements on the media’s request to use an additional courtroom. Gannett said if they can come to an agreement, one that he can approve, by Wednesday, he would issue his ruling by Thursday. That would give unhappy parties time to appeal the ruling, and for the matter to be settled before Oct. 9. “It’s for the lawyers to work out, and ultimately for me to approve,” said Gannett. He said because of all the people involved with the case, and its complexity, he does foresee unresolved issues important enough to postpone the preliminary hearing. Gannett said it would take something extraordinary. Gannett said Colorado’s Judicial Canon 3 specifically prohibits television and still photography during a preliminary hearing. He said the canon is less clear about audio transmissions. He said Bryant’s defense attorneys oppose it. Gannett said his media decorum order will hold for the preliminary hearing, as well as for District Court if the case is bound over for trial. That order bars media from shooting video or still pictures from inside the courthouse or on the grounds except in designated areas. It also prohibits media from interviewing the alleged victim, witnesses, attorneys and law enforcement officials in the courthouse or on the grounds. “My concern is safety with that happens in the corridors and on the grounds,” he said. In a related matter, Gannett said he takes full responsibility for a clerical snafu that saw Bryant’s alleged victim’s name and address put on the state judicial system’s Web site for about an hour. The mistake was made when a motion was posted on the Web site without the alleged victim’s name being blacked out. The page was quickly taken down, the alleged victim’s name and other personal information were removed, and the page was reposted. Gannett said more than 1,200 pages of legal documents have been scanned and made available on the Web site. “Its principle drive is to give access to all of you (the media) and the public, without waiting for paper copies to be made available,” Gannett said. “This case has moved a lot of paper, and this is one way to deal with it as efficiently as possible.” Mountains of motions Among the motions Eagle County Court Judge Fred Gannett will rule on this week: – Bryant’s defense attorneys subpoenaed Bryant’s alleged victim to testify at the preliminary hearing. – Bryant’s defense attorneys asked that the preliminary hearing be closed to the media and the public. – Bryant’s defense attorneys subpoenaed the Northern Colorado Medical Center, the University of Northern Colorado’s student health services and the Eagle Valley Medical Center, seeking Bryant’s alleged victim’s medical records. – Bryant’s defense attorneys subpoenaed records from The Resource Center, which operates several local programs, including a hotline for victims of violence and abuse. – Bryant’s defense attorneys subpoenaed the Best Western Lodge and Spa in Eagle, seeking records about when the alleged victim and her former boyfriend used the health club and facilities. Vail police ordered to provide 911 records by Randy Wyrick The Eagle County Judge Fred Gannett Monday ordered Vail police to give Kobe Bryant’s attorneys 911 records of calls to the home of Bryant’s alleged victim. Gannett said the records must be turned over to Bryant’s defense team, but cannot be released to the public. Gannett’s ruling Monday reverses an earlier ruling by Eagle County Court Judge Richard Hart, in which Hart ordered the records to remain sealed. The Vail Daily and other media outlets had asked for the records, which are generally available to the public. Gannett said he was not bound by Hart’s earlier decision. Bryant, 25, is charged with felony sexual assault after a 19-year-old Eagle County woman said he raped her June 30 at the the Lodge and Spa at Cordillera, where she worked and he was a guest. Bryant, who is free on $25,000 bond, has said the two had consensual sex. Judge Gannett caught speeding By Greg Masse Special to the Daily GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The Eagle County judge overseeing the Kobe Bryant rape case recently had some legal troubles of his own. Eagle County Judge Frederick Gannett accepted a plea bargain on Sept. 18 to a charge of speeding on Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon. According to the original citation, the 50-year-old Basalt resident, who has gained national prominence over the past three months from his role as judge in the star basketball player’s sex assault case, was caught driving 80 mph in a 50 mph zone in Glenwood Canyon on April 25. Gannett could not be reached for comment on Friday. The Colorado State Patrol issued the ticket. After 9th District Attorney Mac Myers saw that the offender was an Eagle County judge, he requested a special prosecutor to avoid any conflict of interest because he sometimes works with Gannett. The case was handed over to 21st District Attorney Frank Daniels’ office in Grand Junction. According to court documents, the judge, who was driving a green 1997 Saab, pleaded guilty to driving 10-19 mph over the posted speed limit in the curvy canyon. Gannett was pulled over at 3:40 p.m. as he was headed westbound along Interstate 70 that spring day. According to the plea form, Gannett was ordered to pay a $50 fine and $30 in court costs. Gannett will preside over the Bryant case Oct. 9 preliminary hearing. If Gannett finds probable cause to take the case to trial, it will be transferred to 5th District Court.

Judge demands silence in Bryant case

An Eagle County judge Thursday ordered everyone directly connected with the Kobe Bryant case not to discuss it in public. Judge Fred Gannett said his order is not a gag order, but a reminder to attorneys from both sides, court personnel, law enforcement officers and witnesses to refrain from releasing any information about the case. “We’re in the very preliminary stages of this case,” Gannett said. “We felt it necessary to take a proactive stance.” Gannett said the order applies only to those associated with the court – attorneys, investigators, law enforcement and court personnel. “We’re received a fair amount of mail about the apparent proliferation of information regarding this case,” Gannett said. “The court must have the authority to exert its control.” Gannett said his order is a reminder to those associated with the court in any way that they are governed by the rules of professional conduct. “We want to make sure everyone has the best opportunity to present their case,” he said. Gannett said attorneys are allowed to make only the most general statements, for example declaring that their client is innocent. They are not allowed, he said, to discuss specifically why the evidence supports their assertion. “If I have an overriding concern, it’s fairness,” said Gannett. Gannett will hear the case during its county court phase, including the 4 p.m. Aug. 6 appearance by Bryant during which the defendant will be read his rights. Gannett said Bryant will probably be required to appear. Gannett will also preside over the hearing in County Court, where he will decide if there is probable cause to send the case along to District Court, where it would be heard by Judge Tom Moorhead, the newest district judge. Moorhead is the former attorney for the town of Vail and Eagle County. It’s not until the first hearing in District Court that Bryant would enter a plea. Celebrity justice The Bryant case is not Gannett’s first brush with celebrities, but he said it’s probably the most high profile case anyone around here, or anywhere else, has seen. As a Pitkin County sheriff’s deputy 26 years ago, he dealt with serial killer Ted Bundy, whose killing spree brought him through the Vail and Aspen areas. He was an assistant city attorney for Aspen when author Hunter S. Thompson was arrested for illegally discharging firearms. “Places like Vail and Aspen are more apt to have cases that are higher profile than many other places,” said Gannett. Decisions, decisions On Friday, Gannett will issue his order on expanded media coverage in his courtroom. He said state law allows one video camera and one still camera, and no more. On Monday, he will issue what he called a decorum order, regarding how the expected crush of media will be dealt with during Bryant’s Aug. 6 court appearance. The item was moved from 1 to 4 p.m. as a courtesy to Bryant, and to accommodate everyone else the court docket that day. By the middle of next week, he said he expects to rule on whether to unseal the investigation file. A request to unseal the file was made by several media outlets, including the Vail Daily. In a related matter, Eagle County Court Judge Richard Hart will hear final arguments Friday in an open records case filed by Colorado Mountain News Media and the Vail Daily. Attorneys have asked for a quick decision, which could come Friday or Monday. Rules of Prof. Cond., Rule 3.6 RULE 3.6. TRIAL PUBLICITY (a) A lawyer who is participating or has participated in the investigation or litigation of a matter shall not make an extrajudicial statement that a reasonable person would expect to be disseminated by means of public communication if the lawyer knows or reasonably should know that it will have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding in the matter. (b) Notwithstanding paragraph (a), a lawyer may state: (1) The claim, offense or defense involved and, except when prohibited by law, the identity of the persons involved; (2) Information contained in a public record; (3) That an investigation of a matter is in progress; (4) The scheduling or result of any step in litigation; (5) A request for assistance in obtaining evidence and information necessary thereto; (6) A warning of danger concerning the behavior of a person involved, when there is reason to believe that there exists the likelihood of substantial harm to an individual or to the public interest; and (7) In a criminal case, [the basic facts of the case, available through public record]: Rules of Professional Conduct It is difficult to strike a balance between protecting the right to a fair trial and safeguarding the right of free expression. Preserving the right to a fair trial necessarily entails some curtailment of the information that may be disseminated about a party prior to trial, particularly where trial by jury is involved. If there were no such limits, the result would be the practical nullification of the protective effect of the rules of forensic decorum and the exclusionary rules of evidence. On the other hand, there are vital social interests served by the free dissemination of information about events having legal consequences and about legal proceedings themselves. The public has a right to know about threats to its safety and measures aimed at assuring its security. It also has a legitimate interest in the conduct of judicial proceedings, particularly in matters of general public concern. Furthermore, the subject matter of legal proceedings is often of direct significance in debate and deliberation over questions of public policy.

Judge says he’ll recuse himself from Cordillera case

EAGLE – District Court Judge Fred Gannett said Wednesday that if Cordillera Club owner David Wilhelm’s attorneys want him to recuse himself from the case, he’d do it, but only if they file legal documents requesting it. Gannett, an avid golfer, belongs to the Ironbridge golf club in the Roaring Fork Valley. Ironbridge is in bankruptcy and been for four years, Gannett said during Wednesday morning’s hearing. A letter from Wilhelm’s attorneys, Tamara Seelman, Michael McCloskey and Matthew Nugent, claims that Gannett’s Ironbridge membership, plus statements he reportedly made during a golf game with people not connected to the Cordillera case, could reflect bias. Gannett said he disagrees with both the content and the context in which his statements were presented in a letter and affidavit. “On the basis of the law, I don’t believe or see in myself any bias against anyone in this case,” Gannett said. “The comment was taken drastically out of context, and was subject to some manipulation by someone who has no part in the case.” In a letter to Gannett, Wilhelm’s attorneys say they have “grown concerned regarding whether there exists an appearance of bias, which could blemish a fair and impartial trial of this matter.” Gannett will step aside so the case can continue to move forward, he said. “A motion will come to me and I intend to sign it. As soon as I get the motion I’ll draft the order,” Gannett said. During a recent hearing, Gannett told the parties he felt he needed to make some disclosures, said Chris Celentino, Wilhelm’s bankruptcy attorney. “On the basis of those disclosures he invited us to let us know what we thought about it. This is our response to the judge’s disclosure and invitation to take a position. Judge Gannett brought it up to us. We started the investigation, and we appreciate the judge’s disclosure,” Celentino said. Gannett has plenty to do without the Cordillera case. His docket carries 1,200 cases and he will be set for trial for most of next year. Contempt charges Along with the Cordillera Club’s bankruptcy, Wilhelm faces contempt of court motions stemming from his alleged failure to provide information to the court. The contempt hearing is scheduled in two weeks. Wilhelm’s attorneys asked for a six month delay, Heckman said. “They will do anything they can to avoid the contempt hearing,” said Tom Wilner, one of the 610 former Cordillera Club members suing Wilhelm for violating their membership agreement. “They filed for bankruptcy in federal court, and now are moving to have the judge recuse himself. I don’t think this will delay it,” Wilner said. The real focus is the bankruptcy, Wilner said. “No amount of legal wiggling will help Wilhelm, because Wilhelm won’t be able to create a feasible reorganization plan,” Wilner said. Membership has plunged in the last year, and it won’t increase as long as Wilhelm is part of the plan, Wilner said. “He won’t get new members to join if he’s part of it, so he cannot succeed in a reorganization plan,” Wilner said. Gannett disclosed at the outset of the case that his wife is an officer with Alpine Bank, although not in any capacity that would involve Cordillera’s $12.7 million loan with the bank. Wilhelm filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection the day that loan came due. Brett Heckman, the plaintiff’s attorney, asked Gannett to reconsider and remain with the case. “The defendants have consistently tried to get the case out this court, to federal court, then asking you to recuse,” Heckman said to Gannett. For the second year in a row, Cordillera’s Valley course is the only one of the four Cordillera golf courses open, along with that course’s facilities. Last spring Wilhelm promised to open all four golf courses, but opened only the Valley course and laid off dozens of workers. Some of the members sued him in a class action lawsuit, saying the Wilhelm Family Partnership collected $8 million in membership dues last year and paid themselves almost $1 million, while failing to open three Cordillera golf courses. The members say that violated the membership agreement. Their lawsuit could total $108 million. Wilhelm sued them for $96 million, claiming they were trying to drive him out so they could take over. Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

DA won’t protest opening Bryant’s arrest warrant

A judge’s order to make Kobe Bryant’s arrest warrant available to the public can stand, as far as the district attorney is concerned. District Attorney Mark Hurlbert announced Thursday that he will not appeal an Aug. 21 ruling by Eagle County Court Judge Fred Gannett to make public Bryant’s arrest warrant. “After careful review of the court’s ruling, we decided against appealing the judge’s order,” said Hurlbert. Gannett ordered that “the arrest warrant and return of service, and the Rule 41.1 petition and return shall be unsealed S The arrest affidavit, the Rule 41.1 affidavit, and the search warrant, return and inventory, and affidavit shall remain sealed until judgment is entered.” “We determined that the information the order included for release would not detrimentally affect the victim’s rights or the defendant’s right to a fair trial,” said Hurlbert. Gannett’s order allowed 10 days for attorneys to appeal his ruling to unseal the arrest warrant before it is instituted. Bryant’s defense attorneys have made no announcement regarding their decision. Gannett’s order requires that all the evidence associated with the criminal investigation will remain sealed. Cameras in court Hurlbert joined defense attorneys Pamela Mackey and Harold Haddon in asking Gannett to ban cameras in the courtroom for Bryant’s Oct. 9 preliminary hearing. Mackey and Haddon made their request earlier this week. In his request, Hurlbert wrote that while Colorado law allows cameras in the courtroom for advisements and arraignments, but not for preliminary hearings. “At preliminary hearing the People will present their case, albeit a far shortened version of trial,” wrote Hurlbert. “At the preliminary hearing, many facts of the case will come out. The word-by-word reporting of those facts would greatly prejudice the victim and the defendant’s right to a fair trial.” Hurlbert also wrote that the preliminary hearing may involve members of the public who may not want to be part of a television broadcast. In a related matter, in a letter Thursday to Gannett, media attorney Steven Zansberg requested that anyone who wants to close part of the preliminary hearing to the public must make their request in writing no later than Sept. 9. Zansberg’s letter responds to rumors and speculation that all or part of the Oct. 9 preliminary hearing could be closed to the public. He also asked that Gannett hold a hearing about any such requests, and that any ruling to close the preliminary hearing be handed down by Sept. 30.