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Bryant gag order stems comment

Cliff Thompson

EAGLE ” District Judge Terry Ruckriegle’s deliberate approach to deciding what to do with his recent gag order on anyone involved in the Kobe Bryant case has stopped the recent blizzard of pretrial publicity cold.

Lugert, as a television color commentator for the case, for a short time faced the irony of being the lone reporter who couldn’t talk about the case and who would have violated the gag order just doing what reporters do ” asking questions of people involved in the case he is covering. The judge was persuaded to lift the order on Lugert.

“It has had the effect of chilling the strident voices on all sides,” said Dave Lugert, an attorney and former prosecutor who analyzes the case for media outlets across the country. “It has done some good, even through it’s fundamentally unconstitutional.”



Ruckriegle imposed the gag order Aug. 5 at the request of Kobe Bryant’s defense team after John Clune and Lin Wood, attorneys for Bryant’s alleged victim, made a round of television interviews. In those interviews, Clune and Wood criticized the court’s handing of private hearing transcripts that were inadvertently e-mailed to seven media outlets, among other errors. Those transcripts contained detailed testimony by a defense expert, but none by a prosecution expert. The judge later released an edited form of the transcripts to the public.

Wood and Clune filed a lawsuit in federal court against Bryant last week, seeking in excess of $75,000 on behalf of the woman.



The language of the gag order is so encompassing that participants of Bryant’s criminal trial who will be involved in his civil trial cannot comment on the latter.

“These attorneys are frustrated with the order,” said Lugert. “It was done without a hearing or briefs.”

Ruckriegle’s sweeping order bans anyone connected with the case in nearly any way from making public statements about it. The defense and prosecution have said that the media pressure cooker surrounding the case would result in too much pretrial publicity and make it difficult to field a jury in Eagle County that hadn’t already formed an opinion about the case. In particular, the defense claimed, Clune and Wood had used the Vail Daily and other media outlets to “poison” the jury pool.



“The accuser’s attorneys have thrown fair-trial concerns to the wind and opened a media campaign designed to poison the jury pool and prejudice Mr. Bryant,” defense attorney Hal Haddon wrote in requesting the gag.

Attorney Steven Zansberg, who represents numerous media organizations including the Vail Daily, requested that Ruckriegle rescind or narrow the limits of the gag order because it was “constitutionally overbroad.” The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right of free speech.

Monday, Ruckriegle said he would make a ruling on the “soon” despite a request that he schedule the matter for Monday’s pretrial hearing. He did not elaborate on when he would make a decision.

Some court watchers believe this is one way for the judge to level the playing field by squelching comments before jury selection, which begins next week. A total of 999 potential jurors have been summoned from Eagle County.

“In a case like this, there is enormous judicial temptation to try to do something, most anything, to deal with the extraordinary level of publicity,” said Floyd Abrams, an attorney who specializes in the First Amendment and is not representing anyone involved in the case.

“The problems with this gag order because of its overbreadth does threaten First Amendment interests. I hope he does rule quickly and that he limits the scope of the order.”

Abrams said Ruckriegle is not likely to be pressured into making a decision by appellate courts.

“There will be a great deal of judicial sympathy for the judge unlucky enough to be chosen for this case,” he said. “They would try and give the trial judge a break.”

Of course, Ruckriegle, the chief judge for the 5th Judicial District, chose himself for the task.

Lugert, who was bound by and then later released from the gag order, said he believes that if Ruckriegle affirms his order instead of easing it, the issue will be addressed in an emergency session of the Colorado Supreme Court. Lugert shares an office suite with Clune, the alleged victim’s private attorney since shortly after Bryant was charged with sexual assault.

Staff Writer Cliff Thompson can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 450, or cthompson@vaildaily.com

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