Bryant case judge denies request for delay
DENVER ” The judge in the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case denied prosecutors’ request for an indefinite delay in the trial late Friday, saying there was no justification for a postponement.
But in two other rulings, the judge handed prosecutors a victory by limiting or prohibiting potentially damaging testimony about the accuser’s mental health, purported suicide attempts and use of any drugs or alcohol.
Legal analysts said even those decisions were of limited help to prosecutors because the judge ruled earlier that the defense can introduce evidence about the woman’s alleged sexual activity around the time of her encounter with Bryant. Prosecutors have appealed that ruling to the Colorado Supreme Court.
“Keeping out her drug or alcohol or psychiatric records doesn’t give you another good fact; all it does is say there’s some bad facts that aren’t going to come in,” said Larry Pozner, former president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
“It would have helped the defense to win it, but it’s not critical.”
The rulings came amid intense speculation about whether prosecutors intended to drop the case after a series of setbacks that prompted them to seek a delay in the trial, scheduled to begin with jury selection on Aug. 27.
Among them was the release of a transcript of a closed-door hearing ” which prosecutors called “extremely harmful” ” in which defense witness Elizabeth Johnson explained why she believed the woman had sex with another man within 15 hours after her encounter with Bryant.
In another development that complicated prosecutors’ task, attorneys for the accuser filed a civil lawsuit against Bryant in federal court on Tuesday. Defense attorney Pamela Mackey said in a filing made public Friday that the lawsuit showed the woman was pursuing a false allegation in “the hope of a large monetary award.”
Prosecution spokeswoman Krista Flannigan declined to comment on either of Friday’s rulings, citing a sweeping gag order. She did say prosecutors still plan to go to trial as scheduled.
“Nothing has changed,” she said.
Former prosecutor Karen Steinhauser said prosecutors now must ensure that the alleged victim is still willing to press the criminal case.
“If she isn’t and isn’t committed to testify, I don’t think they have a chance for winning this case,” she said.
District Judge Terry Ruckriegle’s decision to exclude information about the woman’s mental health could encourage her to continue, said attorney Scott Robinson, who has followed the case.
“The prosecution’s case was extremely weak as it was,” he said. “They need every break they can get, and this is definitely a break.”
Ruckriegle did not provide details about the defense arguments to use the information about the woman’s medical and mental health because it came from witness testimony taken behind closed doors last spring.
Prosecutors cited the release of the transcript as a reason for delaying the trial. They said the testimony, combined with a gag order preventing them from rebutting it, threatened the chances for a fair trial.
A court reporter had accidentally e-mailed the transcript to seven news organizations, and Ruckriegle tried unsuccessfully to prevent its publication.
Ruckriegle said he saw no merit to prosecutors’ argument that the release of the transcript should prompt a delay. He said none of the information in the transcript had been ruled irrelevant or inadmissible.
“(Prosecutors) will, of course, have the opportunity at trial to present rebuttal evidence to mitigate any prejudicial publicity stemming from the premature release,” Ruckriegle said.
He also noted that after the transcript was released, the woman’s attorneys “embarked upon a media campaign,” commenting on the merits of the case and criticizing courthouse mistakes that led to the release of the transcript and the accidental posting of the woman’s name on a state court Web site.
So much information about the case has already been reported in the media that publicity about the transcripts does not justify a delay, the judge said.
Prosecutors also argued that because Ruckriegle had not yet ruled on whether the evidence about the woman’s mental and medical history could be admitted, they had too little time to decide whether to hire expert witnesses to challenge the evidence.
Ruckriegle said that argument was now irrelevant because he had barred that evidence.
He dismissed prosecutors’ complaints that the defense had not turned over DNA test results. Mackey had denied the complaint.
Bryant, 25, has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault and has said he had consensual sex with the woman at the Vail-area resort where she worked. If convicted, he faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation, and a fine up to $750,000.
The civil lawsuit, filed in federal court in Denver, seeks unspecified damages for pain, “public scorn, hatred and ridicule.” It is similar to the criminal case, accusing Bryant of attacking the woman in his room.
It also accuses him of similar misconduct involving other women but provides no details.
Damages for pain and suffering and other non-economic losses in Colorado civil cases generally cannot exceed $733,000; damages for economic losses and physical impairment or disfigurement are not capped.
Punitive damages cannot exceed the compensatory award and can be given only if the allegations are proven beyond a reasonable doubt.