Bryant defense fouls up
Last Thursday, Kobe Bryant’s defense team turned a preliminary hearing into a lurid, almost pornographic display that defied the rape shield law and reached a new low in the field of criminal law.
In a matter of minutes, famed criminal defense lawyer Pamela Mackey used the alleged victim’s real name six times and then made an unfounded allegation about her sexual history that had no apparent basis in fact.
Since the alleged victim already told police investigators who she’s had relations with and when, Mackey must have known her suggestion was false. The only basis for asking such an obscene question would be if she had information prosecutors were unaware of, but sources close to the investigation say Mackey’s question was “categorically false.”
As a law student studying evidence at the University of Florida, I was appalled at Mackey’s conduct because I’ve learned that traditionally, to ask a suggestive question a lawyer must have a “good faith basis.” Otherwise the question is considered unfair.
Despite the defense’s near-fatal attempt to tarnish the young lady’s reputation, sources close to her report that she is stronger than ever and determined to see justice done. If it was in fact Ms. Mackey’s intention to intimidate the alleged victim by playing hardball Thursday, she apparently failed.
“If anything, the comments made by Kobe’s lawyers just made her stronger,” said a childhood friend of the alleged victim. “She’s ready to tell her story to the jury and she’s confident that the right thing will be done. She’s not afraid.”
The alleged victim wasn’t the only one who was unimpressed with Mackey. Dozens of journalists seemed to gasp at her suggestive statements and found her repetitive use of the alleged victim’s name suspicious. At the break, reporters shared their feelings, aghast at Mackey’s reckless attitude and what appeared to be a lack of respect for the alleged victim. Reporters laughed out loud when Judge Gannett told Mackey he “could just get out the muzzle” for her.
As Mackey’s ridiculous suggestions rolled off her tongue in an ever so condescending tone, a room of reporters found themselves sickened at her willingness to stoop to such an ethical low. As both a journalist and a law student, I was astonished at her willingness to continuously use the alleged victim’s name.
As a lawyer, Mackey should be ashamed of herself. As an officer of the court, she should feel a sense of moral obligation to apologize to the alleged victim for identifying her.
As a woman, she should consider the potential damage she is causing by treating a potential rape victim with the kind of disdain and disrespect she has shown to the alleged victim in this case.
One must wonder how Kobe Bryant is feeling, knowing that his attorneys just enraged the American public, insulted the intelligence of the national press, and probably lost sympathy with every female juror in the immediate area. To make matters worse, a retired Eagle County judge told the New York Daily News last weekend that Bryant’s other lawyer, Hal Haddon, revealed confidential case information to him regarding DNA evidence. Not surprisingly, the judge leaked that claim to the paper, which reported it in a manner that was unfavorable to the alleged victim.
It doesn’t take a law degree or a press card to see that Bryant’s image is sinking faster than the Titanic with every move his defense team makes. Hopefully, for his sake, the NBA superstar is as talented a rower as he is a ball player. Perhaps a simple life raft would be in order.
It is a lawyer’s job to be an advocate for her client. She should be vigorous and passionate, and fight for them with all her heart. But when fighting for a client means degrading the reputation of a potential victim simply for the stardom effect of making trashy tabloid headlines, the mission an attorney becomes tainted. As a result, she ends up causing her client more harm than good.
In this case, Pamela Mackey has set the tone for the Bryant defense team. Cold, calculating and heartless, it is apparent that justice isn’t as much an issue as is making their case with attention-grabbing headlines. As tempting as it is for this writer to publicize the comments Mackey made last week in the Eagle County Courthouse, I respectfully decline her obvious invitation to do so.
There is no way to know whether Kobe Bryant is guilty or innocent. If Mr. Bryant is innocent, he deserves to be exonerated. If he is guilty, he deserves to pay the appropriate price.
Regardless of the outcome, however, Bryant’s lawyers should take a cue from their client’s on-court performance and realize that winning isn’t everything – it’s how you play the game.
Jeffrey Scott Shapiro is an investigative journalist working on the Kobe Bryant case. He is also studying constitutional law at the University of Florida.