Vail Daily column: Embracing next-level technology | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Embracing next-level technology

In the legal world, tradition rules and old ways die hard. There are still many older attorneys who dictate into recorders and have secretaries transcribe the results to draft letters or briefs. To a college student or young professional, who have never used a fax machine and are imminent consumers of legal services, that practice is almost absurdly antiquated. Attorneys of the new generation are quickly discovering that new technologies are allowing them to compete in the marketplace by leveraging increased efficiency and efficacy, if not experience, to better serve the needs of modern clients. Those lawyers fearful of our new digital overlords prefer to remain ensconced in old-fashioned ideas about document management, legal research, client payments and trial presentation. Understandable though these views may be, the resistance to change could portend a rude awakening. Prime Catalyst Long a traditionalist myself, I was comfortable with the endless stacks of file folders and forests' worth of full legal pads filling increasingly cramped storage spaces in my home and office. An old soul, there is still a part of me that prefers the thought process of scribbling on a piece of yellow paper. At the same time, the advances of the last five years enthralled and energized me as I became captivated with the possibilities for evolving my personal and professional life. The prime catalyst for my relatively recent embrace of the digital revolution is my law partner Ryan. Possessing an impressive cache of high-tech knowledge and a knack for discovering new technologies before they become mainstream, Ryan was instrumental in making one of the founding principles of our new firm the use of digital systems for the benefit of our clients and our practices. Legal practice has long been subsumed by paper. Treatises, lengthy briefs, exhibit notebooks, and the like metastasized to a point that space considerations and ecological guilt have conspired to inspire change. With almost all court systems allowing electronic filing, the need to retain paper copies of pleadings is minimal. Important documents such as wills, deeds and contracts still may require physical manifestations, but the time is nigh when electronic signatures or retina scans will make even that practice obsolete. Once the choice is made to go (mostly) paperless, there are all manner of electronic document management solutions that can integrate with email programs and calendars to create a streamlined workflow. These programs allow all documents to be stored so that they are not only accessible locally, but across persons, devices and geographies. Anecdotally, this feature proves useful frequently, allowing me to call up any document or appointment on my phone as necessary, even if out on a bike ride. Magician or Genius? The courtroom is the venue where the differences between Luddites and technophiles are rendered in most stark relief. Having trial exhibits and notes organized in digital form makes presentation to the judge or jury much more slick and seamless. Jury members are notoriously fickle and often swayed by appearances and other inputs that have little to do with the facts of the case. Thus, if one attorney is constantly flipping through giant exhibit notebooks while the other simply pushes a button and the exhibit is displayed in high-definition on an iPad in front of the jury member, the lawyer who uses technology is going to create a favorable impression. Advances in 3-D technology are going to push this advantage even further. The tech-savvy lawyer will have the jury virtually inspect a crime scene or allegedly defective construction project through a 3-D display. Using a 3-D printer, the attorney may create a replica of the murder weapon or the damaged product for each jury member, allowing them to explore intricacies in ways never before possible. Compared to a lawyer who uses a two-dimensional photograph, the forward-thinking attorney is going to seem like a magician or genius. Email revolutionized legal communication, but that was just the beginning. Our firm, which has offices in Avon and Aspen and clients throughout Colorado, uses Google Hangouts to conduct conferences. This technology cuts out the inefficiencies of travel and allows us to collaborate on documents without having to be at the same table. Although we see each other frequently, the virtual visits also allow us to maintain camaraderie and to meet clients "face-to-face" when that is otherwise impractical. The next five years are going to bring another tidal wave of advancements that will again change the face of legal practice. I am excited and poised to ride that swell of new technology. T.J. Voboril is a partner at Reynolds, Kalamaya & Voboril LLC, a local law firm, and the owner/mediator at Voice Of Reason Dispute Resolution. For more information, contact Voboril at 970-306-6456, tj@rkvlaw.com or visit http://www.rkvlaw.com.

A jury of (and inquisition by) your peers

There’s something new under the Colorado summer sun. Beginning July 1, jurors in criminal cases are allowed to submit written questions to the trial judge to be asked of witnesses during trial. You may have first caught wind of this when Judge Ruckriegle recently announced that he would implement the new rule in the Kobe Bryant case. His announcement sent reporters scrambling to ask a plethora of experts, “Is this normal?” Well, no, but … yes. Under new Rule 24(g) of Colorado Rules of Criminal Procedure, commencing July 1, such device is procedurally permissible and will likely, except in unusual circumstances, become the norm.Colorado Rules have allowed juries in civil trials to submit written questions for the trial judge to ask witnesses at civil trials for the past year and, apparently, that duck has floated without any major glitches, de-featherings or breachings, thus encouraging the new rule in criminal proceedings. Providing a mechanism for jurors to have their questions asked are among the innovations (along with a grab bag of others) that are at the vanguard of positive jury reform in our nation’s courts and, in many ways, Colorado has led (or at least joined in) the charge.In implementing the new rule, the trial judge maintains the discretion to “…prohibit or limit questioning in a particular trial for reasons related to the severity of the charges, the presence of significant suppressed evidence or for other good cause.” In other words, the ability of jurors to submit their questions to the judge for presentation to witnesses is not automatic and it remains to be seen how widely this new device of jury interaction will actually be employed. It is believed by legal scholars, however, that juror questions will in short order become a mainstay of the trial process. In order to assure that the questioning is germane, the judge will screen all jury questions for relevance, appropriateness and for conformance with evidentiary requirements.In a report (known as the Dodge Report) first commissioned by Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey in 2000, (yes, the chief justice of the Colorado Supreme Court’s name really is “Mullarkey”), a pilot study concluded that allowing jurors to ask questions at trial will have “…a positive effect with few detrimental results.” Further, jurors in the pilot program reported greater satisfaction with the trial process as well as greater confidence in their decision. Simply, by having their questions asked, the jurors felt more satisfied that the conclusions they reached were just. The report found, too, that such jury interaction kept the jurors more attentive and engaged and decreased the public perception that in reaching its result the jury was deluded, confused or persuaded by attorney sleight-of-hand or courtroom theatrics.Of course the goal here is not only to keep the jury more fully engaged and to help raise the public esteem of the judicial system but, ultimately, to facilitate the jurors’ understanding of the case and to aid it in its quest for the truth. In the last analysis, the zealotry and gamesmanship of opposing counsel notwithstanding, what a trial really is is the act of separating the chaff of posturing and fiction from the wheat of truth and justice in order to arrive at a just and equitable result.One of the fears which was allayed by the pilot program was whether jury questioning would dissuade a defendant from testifying or in any way cause prejudice either to the accused or to the prosecution. The Dodge Report bore out that it does not. Another benefit revealed by the pilot program was that jury questioning gave counsel a “head’s up” as to issues of fact and law that the jury was failing to comprehend. It is far better for the attorneys to know what the jury isn’t “getting” while the trial is still under way – and the opportunity exists to set the record straight – than for the jury to reach its determination based upon one or more misunderstandings.The context of the new rule should be understood within the greater context of our changing society where “paternalism” in all its forms and guises has rightfully fallen out of favor. Think, if you will, of the former god-like status of medical doctors of just a generation ago and how medical care has since evolved to be more a cooperative undertaking between doctor and patient. In the same way, the new Rule 24(g) encourages jury participation rather than relegating jurors to the role of passive observers and so doing is a new, overdue and welcome paradigm in the law.To borrow the observation of the legal scholar and writer, Jefferson District Court Judge Leland P. Anderson, in quoting from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, judicial reform, in general, and Rule 24(g), in particular, provides the public with reassurance that “…our criminal justice system remains first and foremost ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people.’” Rule 24 (g) takes a least another small but meaningful step in that direction.Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the Bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. He is a member of the Colorado State Bar Association Legal Ethics Committee and is a former adjunct professor of law. Mr. Robbins lectures for Continuing Legal Education for attorneys in the areas of real estate, business law and legal ethics. He may be reached at 926-4461 or at his e-mail address: robbins@colorado.net

Boulder company shares $9 million with employees

DENVER, Colorado ” Eleven-year FreeWave Technologies Inc. employee Melanie Duran says the wireless data radio maker is a great place to work. But you can judge for yourself. The Boulder-based company says it has had profits every month since it hired its first employee in 1995. There have been no layoffs. Employees get company-funded retirement plans and bonuses based on profits and growth. And there’s more: As part of a $113 million private-equity investment deal in 2007, FreeWave is sharing $9 million of investors’ money with its fewer than 100 employees as a reward for the company’s success. Shares are divvied up based on individual performance. FreeWave refused to disclose individual payments. The $9 million, for eligible employees who were with FreeWave when it won the investment, has been paid out in three installments. Company founders Steve Wulchin and Jonathan Sawyer are handing out the last payments Thursday. “We’re fortunate to have great bosses,” said Duran, a production lead. The extra money is helping the 33-year-old close on buying her first house. “This is something that in today’s economy Steve and Jonathan don’t have to do, and yet they’ve chosen to do it,” said Tim Ake, a Navy veteran and production manager who has been with FreeWave for about five years. “That inspires me to go and do likewise,” said Ake, who typically gives some of his bonuses to his church and to charity. FreeWave makes use of technology originally created for the U.S. Navy to stop enemies from jamming American radio transmissions during World War II. Military, agriculture, utility, oil and gas and other customers use FreeWave products for applications such as controlling unmanned vehicles or monitoring remote equipment. Despite the weak economy, the company expects profit growth in 2009 with its diverse customers. It didn’t release specific projections, but is looking to expand in Europe, Latin America and China. Wulchin, FreeWave’s chief executive officer, and Sawyer, chief technology officer, formed the company in 1993 using Wulchin’s credit cards. Ake jokes that the two have such an open-door policy that they don’t have doors: Their cubicles sit in the middle of the office. Wulchin and Sawyer said that in talking to investors, they made it clear they wanted to share any equity investment with employees. “Honestly, we thought it was a great thing,” said Vivian Wu, a principal at TA Associates, which led the $113 million investment in 2007. “From our perspective, it showed they were thinking about this as a company, how to build a business. It takes people.” Wu said the money would allow FreeWave to grow faster. Michael Child, a managing director at TA Associates and FreeWave board chairman, likened the payouts to incentives like stock options that public companies give to retain employees. Wulchin said his firm’s base salaries are “competitive.” He estimated voluntary annual turnover in the single-digit percentages. Of course, twice-yearly bonuses that have averaged a total of $11,600 since 2003 don’t hurt in a workplace where Ake said employees’ responsibilities can go beyond their primary roles. “It can be stressful, it can be tough, it isn’t always fun,” Wulchin said. “Here’s something we can make a difference on.”

The law of personality

No, don’t panic. They’re not legislating personality. You’re safe for now at least. It’s still perfectly legal to be a schmoe, or any other obnoxious thing you want to be (so long as you don’t tread on someone else’s toes), and the thunder of the law will not reach out and smack you up the side of the head. There are limits of civility, of course.What I mean by the law of personality has nothing to do with your offensive personal habits, traits or your demeanor. It has to do, instead, with those intangible things (those things outside of the law and the facts) that lawyers, judges and jurors take into consideration in determining your fate.An essential factor in consideration of “personality” in the practice of law is the character and disposition of the parties involved, as well as the personalities of their agents and representatives, the lawyers included. Are the persons involved reasonable and cooperative or are they argumentative, arrogant, bellicose or belligerent? Clearly, the first portends that whatever disputes arise may be more or less susceptible to informal resolution, and a course of negotiation may satisfactorily be developed where a dispute has already blossomed. What about the lawyers? Are they suffering from bloodlust (as most of you may suspect), or are their purposes more noble? Are they seeking swift, effective and inexpensive resolution of disputes or counseling, instead, the trial of the century. As in most aspects of life, sizing up your opponent, or, equally, your partner, is an essential part of every deal and, similarly, every dispute.The law of personality extends more nefariously, however, into the murky catacombs of legal calculus. Rare is the trial attorney who has not sized up his or her own client (or his or her own witnesses) to determined how they’ll “play” to the Court or to a jury. Will the witness engender sympathy? Is he or she credible? Will the jury believe the tale he or she is weaving? Even if the tale is true, some people’s delivery is simply better than others and woe be to the attorney who has not developed the skill of determining a spell-binder from a bore, a fabricator from a boyhood George Washington with glistening hatchet and struck down cherry tree.Even if believable, will a jury like the witness (or the client)? However unimportant this should be under a system that promises equal justice, people, after all, are people, with all their prejudices, predispositions and peculiarities. Will the juror “hate” her because she’s too pretty or too thin? Will they not believe him simply because of the Rolex on his wrist or owing to his deep Southern accent? Will a working class jury resent a successful businessperson or want to “send a message” to someone of a different economic background. Will race, ancestry or orientation influence the “audience” before which the witness offers his or her account?The attorney’s decision of whether or not to try a matter to a jury is, more times than most of us would like to admit, one based on the sympathy we believe our client would evoke. Would this “play” better to a judge rather than to a jury of our client’s peers? Is the jury astute enough to get it? In complex or technical litigation, especially, will the jury be able to follow the complex jabbering of witnesses? Will we be able to keep the jury awake, involved and interested?Increasingly, especially in “big” cases, litigation consultants are retained by counsel to help develop the case. Litigation consultants can come in many flavors and can yield from many diverse backgrounds and fields of practice. They can include psychologists, media consultants, sociologists, and others. They might help the lawyer “train” the witness to “present” him or herself better, or more believably, or might help develop the gestalt or “tone” of the case. Perhaps most common are jury consultants who, in essence, profile the jury, rather than the witnesses. They develop, in light of the kind of case and the kind of facts likely to be admitted, the kind of juror who may be sympathetic to your client’s plight. Would a middle-aged mother of four, for example, be more likely to believe your client’s version of the facts than, say, a twenty-two-year-old-never-been-married college student? Would a construction worker better understand the context in which the facts repose than, say, a white collar middle manager? Often, these determinations, before the trial starts, can be critical. There are those who claims with perhaps at least some justification, that “picking” your jury is by far the greatest predictor of the trial outcome, even greater than what anyone ends up saying on the witness stand.One other thing should be understood. How, you might be asking, can the lawyers and their various consultants “pick” a jury? This leads us to voir dire, literally “to speak the truth.” What it means, in fact, however, is that the lawyer for each side gets to “interview” prospective jurors, to ask him or her questions (often developed with the help of trial consultants) to help determine the prospective juror’s likely impartiality in the matters at hand. In point of fact, voir dire is more, it allows the skilled and well-prepared attorney a glimpse into the potential juror’s life views and prejudices and helps the lawyer exclude those persons most likely to be adverse to his or her client’s position. Conversely, it allows the lawyer to include those prospective jurors sympathetic to his or her client’s cause. Such ability of the lawyer to “choose” is not unlimited however; certain limits to the number of jurors who may be excluded are imposed. Thus, the influence of the jury consultant looms even larger.If you don’t believe that law, particularly, trial work, is personality driven and the intangibles of personality don’t really matter, ask yourself about the O.J. Simpson trial, the Michael Jackson trial, the Robert Blake trial. Were the facts and law really in the defendants’ favor or were the juries overwhelmed by the glitz and glamour or blinded by the spark of fame?Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. He is a member of the Colorado State Bar Association Legal Ethics Committee and is a former adjunct professor of law. Robbins lectures for Continuing Legal Education for attorneys in the areas of real estate, business law and legal ethics. He can be heard Wednesdays at 7 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) as host of “Community Focus.” Mr. Robbins can be reached at 926-4461 or robbins@colorado.net.Vail, Colorado

RIM and NTP resume settlement talks through court mediator

NEW YORK – BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Ltd. has resumed settlement talks with NTP Inc. through a mediator, bolstering hopes for a truce in a patent battle that has threatened the popular BlackBerry e-mail service.RIM and NTP have been “communicating with each other through the court-appointed mediator during the last several days,” RIM Vice President Mark Guibert said in a statement Thursday without elaborating.”We are precluded by law from discussing the substance of that exchange. RIM expects to continue communications through that channel,” Guibert said.Word of the talks temporarily boosted RIM’s stock price, which has slid sharply amid a series of court rulings that have strengthened NTP’s hand.But with investors fretting that a stalemate might lead the judge in the case to order BlackBerry service halted in the United states, the stock gave back all of the day’s gains and turned lower, falling 80 cents a share to $60.80 in Thursday afternoon’s Nasdaq trading.RIM’s most recent legal defeats included the rejection of a request to enforce a preliminary $450 million settlement reached in March that subsequently unraveled.U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer also rejected RIM’s request that the case be put on hold until the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issues a final ruling in its re-examination of the NTP patents at the heart of the case.The patent office has issued preliminary rejections of all five NTP patents that a jury in 2002 decided RIM had infringed upon with the BlackBerry device and service.NTP has downplayed those rulings as largely procedural, while RIM has called the rejections proof that the technology behind its popular BlackBerry handhelds and e-mail service is not stolen.Final determinations on all the patents from the PTO may not come for months, and it’s unclear how those rulings might impact the legal proceedings or any settlement that is reached beforehand.Some industry and legal analysts say RIM, based in Waterloo, Ontario, will likely be forced to settle the lawsuit for as much as $1 billion.Still, some also say RIM’s hands aren’t completely tied, arguing that it’s unlikely NTP would want to force a shutdown, a scenario that could leave it with a far smaller payoff.RIM also says it has a technological workaround that would keep its service running in the United States, where most of its 3.65 million BlackBerry customers are based. But analysts and investors are dubious about the viability of that option. RIM also is proceeding with an appeal to the Supreme Court.Vail, Colorado

Jury rules that Port Authority was negligent in 1993 World Trade Center bombing

NEW YORK – A jury ruled Wednesday that the Port Authority was negligent in the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 – a long-awaited legal victory for victims of an attack that killed six people and wounded 1,000.The six-person jury ruled that the Port Authority, the agency that owned the World Trade Center, was negligent by not properly maintaining the parking garage, where terrorists detonated more than a half-ton of explosives in a Ryder van. It said the negligence was a “substantial factor” in the allowing the bombing to occur.The jury took just one day to reach its verdict. Several separate trials will now be held to determine money damages.The trial cast the spotlight on an attack that was overshadowed after Sept. 11, but was horrific nonetheless. The noontime blast blew a gigantic crater in the garage, filled the building with smoke, wrecked the towers’ power and emergency systems, and spread fear across New York.The verdict came after almost 12 years of legal delays in the civil case. The Port Authority’s last appeal, to try to get the case thrown out, was rejected last year, clearing the way for the trial.During the trial, lead plaintiff lawyer David J. Dean argued the Port Authority failed to take steps to prevent the bombing because it was inconvenient and would have cost too much. Dean said that the Port Authority’s own security officials, in a report released in 1985, warned that the 400-slot garage was a likely attack site.”It was almost as though they had a crystal ball,” he said.But Port Authority lawyer Marc Kasowitz said it was “offensive” to suggest the agency chose profits over safety. He said 3,000 of the Port Authority’s own employees, which the agency considered “family,” worked at the site in 1993.And he said that nothing would have deterred resourceful terrorists – obsessed with bombing a building that was an icon of capitalism – from finding a way to unleash an attack.”The plaintiffs want to blame the Port Authority for the murderous acts of fanatical terrorists who schemed for years and traveled thousands of miles” to carry out the attack, Kasowitz told the jury.Vail, Colorado

Quattrone conviction overturned by appeals court

NEW YORK – A federal appeals court overturned the conviction on Monday of high-powered technology banker Frank Quattrone, granting him a new trial.The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said the jury instructions in Quattrone’s trial were erroneous.It also ordered that the case be reassigned to another judge. Quattrone’s lawyers said the trial judge, Richard Owen, made inconsistent rulings about evidence and testimony that kept their client from getting a fair trial.Quattrone was sentenced to 18 months in prison after he was convicted of obstruction-of-justice charges in May 2004.Quattrone, 50, has been allowed to remain free while he appeals his conviction. A jury found him guilty of obstructing a federal probe into initial public offerings of stock.Quattrone was one of the biggest names on Wall Street during the 1990s Internet stock boom. The National Association of Securities Dealers has barred him from the securities industry for life.Quattrone was convicted of hindering a federal probe into how his bank, Credit Suisse First Boston, had allocated shares of initial public offerings of stock during the late-1990s Internet boom.The banker, who took prominent companies like Amazon.com public during that period, was the highest-profile Wall Street figure since junk-bond pioneer Michael Milken to face a criminal conviction.In its ruling, the appeals court said Owen incorrectly instructed the jury when he said jurors did not need to find a nexus between Quattrone’s actions and pending investigations of his company.”We cannot confidently say that if a rational jury was properly instructed, it is clear to us beyond a reasonable doubt that they would have convicted Quattrone,” the appeals court wrote in a 61-page ruling.

Judge rebuffs DNA hearing

EAGLE – Attorneys in the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case skirmished Thursday during an 11th-hour prosecution challenge to the legitimacy of DNA analysis presented by an expert witnesses for the defense. With jury selection starting this morning, the prosecution is claiming DNA evidence analyzed by expert Dr. Elizabeth Johnson is tainted.Judge Terry Ruckriegle on Thursday denied the prosecution’s request for a hearing on the DNA evidence for the time being, saying the prosecution did not provide compelling evidence that a hearing was needed. The prosecution will be allowed to bring the matter up later.The defense team’s DNA independent analysis conducted in April forms the basis of the defense’s claim that Bryant’s accuser had multiple sexual liaisons in the days before and after the incident on June 30, 2003, when she accused Bryant of raping her. She worked at the Lodge and Spa at Cordillera, where Bryant was a guest.An estimated 450 jurors will show up today to begin answer questionnaires designed to help attorneys judge their suitability to serve on a 12-person jury.Cheap headlinesThe prosecution’s challenge prompted an angry retort by defense attorney Hal Haddon. “This is a notorious humbug designed to distance us from the trial issues,” said Haddon. “It’s designed to garner cheap headlines.”Deputy District Attorney Dana Easter fired back: “This is not bogus. It’s very, very important.”She said the District Attorney’s Office is scrambling to keep up with DNA evidence because the defense did not provide copies of the reports it is required to share with the prosecution until just hours before the hearing.That led to testy exchanges between Ruckriegle and Easter, who pressed the judge for more time to consider the newly received evidence.”I need a yes or no answer” said Ruckriegle. “Do you have an expert who will testify about the evidence other than speculation?””It’s not the people’s fault, your honor,” said Easter. “If we had had the information we requested, we would have done this a long time ago.”The prosecution claimed that a DNA control sample analyzed by Technology Associates of Ventura, Calif., was contaminated. A control sample is used to determine the veracity of the test results because it isn’t suppose to contain any material.The prosecution also challenged portions of DNA reports that were “whited out,” suggesting the whiteout hid pertinent information. But Haddon said the information whited out belonged to other, unrelated criminal cases being analyzed by the laboratory.’Major meltdown’This angry exchange and others signal the tensions building in the case, for which opening statements are scheduled Sept. 7.”It’s apparent there’s a major meltdown by attorneys in the court,” said Dave Lugert, a trial attorney serving as a television legal analyst. “Clearly nerves are fraying. Emotions, frustrations and even resentments of attorneys toward the other side are boiling to the surface.” It seemed apparent to court observers Thursday that both sides were playing for headlines.”Both sides are posturing,” said Bruce Carey, a local attorney and former prosecutor. “They are posturing within whatever legal means they can. Judge Ruckriegle runs a pretty tight ship. Some of it may get in.”Lugert put it another way. “It was a free kick at the cat,” he said. “It’s a strategic motion to lay out in public the fact that there’s some significant questions about contamination and the integrity of the evidence, and there’s some questions about the defense experts. If the court throws the (DNA evidence) out, then the prosecutors win. If it does not, they will still get to argue it before the jury.”Ruckriegle also ruled on a number of other pretrial motions during the hearing. Some of those, such as the content of juror questionnaires, were conducted in closed session.The defense and prosecution have created a paper jungle that, in the court record, comprises 743 separate files, Ruckriegle said.Staff Writer Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or cthompson@vaildaily.comVail, Colorado

Conlin case will go to trial

EAGLE — A district court judge is leaving it to a jury to decide whether Vail Resorts properly closed an in-bounds expert ski run before an avalanche killed a local teenager in 2012. District Court Judge Fred Gannett also ruled that it will be up to a jury to rule if the resort company's signs on Prima Cornice were sufficient. "If a jury finds that Vail intended to close Prima Cornice or a portion thereof, and that Vail's signage was insufficient or improper under the Skier Safety Act, a verdict in favor of plaintiffs may be possible," Gannett wrote in a ruling issued Friday. Taft Conlin, 13, died in January 2012 when he was swept away in an in-bounds avalanche on Prima Cornice. Prima Cornice has two gates. The upper gate was closed, but the lower gate was left open. Conlin and four friends accessed Prima Cornice through that lower gate — as several others had already done that day. Conlin and two friends hiked into the area below the closed upper gate. The snow slid and swept Conlin away, killing him. Conlin's parents, Dr. Louise Ingalls and Dr. Stephen Conlin, are suing Vail Resorts. The trial is scheduled for August. Gannett's ruling said that among the disputes is whether Vail Resorts was aware that skiers would hike or ski the Prima Cornice from the lower entrance. If the jury determines that Vail did know about it, then the jury could find that Vail "at the least tacitly condoned this access," Gannett wrote in Friday's ruling. 'Not about money' In an emailed statement, family attorney Jim Heckbert wrote: "The family is very happy to be assured the case will go forward to trial in August, and that a jury of Eagle County citizens will be allowed hear and decide the complete story about the cause of Taft Conlin's death. This is not about money. Any monetary award the jury may make to the family will all be given to charity." Vail Resorts Vice President of Corporate Communications also emailed a statement about Gannett's ruling: "As this is an ongoing legal matter, we will not comment on the specifics of this particular motion. As always, we support the work of our Mountain Safety and Ski Patrol teams in promoting responsible skiing and riding at all of our resorts to provide a safe experience for our guests and employees."

Bryant trial should be scheduled soon

The light at the end of the tunnel no longer looks like an oncoming train.With another round of pretrial hearings behind them and only a three-day July session still scheduled, a trial date in the Kobe Bryant case could be set by the end of this month.State District Court Judge ordered attorneys to submit to him by June 29 their written closing statements for the rape shield and evidence suppression arguments. “The case is in neutral until those issues are decided,” said attorney Andrew Cohen, a legal analyst for CBS.A status conference on June 30 should mop up most of the outstanding details on those remaining issues, which would clear the way for Ruckriegle to set the trial date. Attorneys for both sides said Monday they’d be ready to go by the end of August.”There are still some pieces hanging, and the judge has made it clear that when he sets a trial date he wants it to be a firm date,” said court coordinator Karen Salaz. The 12 jurors will be drawn from the largest jury pool ever called in Eagle County. One thousand Eagle County residents will receive a jury summons, twice as many as the Chuck Garrison murder case, when 500 potential jurors were summoned.About 225 potential jurors are summoned for the average trial, Salaz said.Potential jurors will fill out at least one questionnaire, possibly two. The final jury questionnaire has 115 questions. Salaz said if all the details can be worked out, it will be mailed along with the summons. If not, potential jurors will fill out the standard 17-question form, then the longer form – either by mail or in person.Salaz said potential jurors are drawn from state income tax rolls, drivers license registrations and voter registrations. Eagle County’s adult residents stand about a one in 20 chance of receiving a jury summons for Bryant’s trial.Salaz said the summons must be sent 45 to 60 days before the final jury call. That timetable coincides with the 45 to 60 days Bryant’s defense attorney Pamela Mackey said she’d need for out-of-state subpoenas.Salaz said that while the case may seem to be creeping along at a snail’s pace, it’s about typical for a sexual assault prosecution. Attorneys talking about a quick trial would do well to load the legal system with a little less paperwork. Since the Bryant’s accuser’s attorney, John Clune, filed resolution asking for a quick trial last spring, Salaz said the court has been deluged with a total of 87 motions, responses and briefs – 41 from the prosecution and 46 from the defense. Tuesday’s hearingTuesday’s hearings were quick and to the point, and held in private. The pretrial hearings will continue July 19-21.The issues dealt with Tuesday included:• Rape Shield: Judge Terry Ruckriegle and attorneys for both sides wrapped up the last of the rape shield testimony. Ruckriegle must still rule on the issue.As part of that hearing, defense DNA expert Dr. Elizabeth Johnson took the stand, as did prosecution DNA experts Dr. Henry Lee and Dr. Michael Baden. The defense has requested that Baden’s expert testimony not be allowed. • The defense wants to know how much money, if any, Bryant’s alleged victim received from the Crime Victims Compensation Fund. The fund reimburses crime victims for medical expenses related to their case not covered by insurance.Still to be decided:• Evidence suppression: Bryant’s defense attorneys want Ruckriegle to throw out the physical evidence and Bryant’s tape-recorded interview, insisting Bryant was, for all practical purposes, under arrest and should have been read his Miranda rights. Prosecutors say Bryant cooperated voluntarily and the evidence should be allowed. Ruckriegle must still rule on the issue.• Rape Shield: Ruckriegle must still decide what, if anything, he’ll allow the jury to hear about the alleged victim’s sexual activity beyond the specifics directly related to this case.