Bryant transcripts may be released
A First Amendment fight in the Kobe Bryant rape case ran up against a 5 p.m. Tuesday deadline as attorneys from both sides struggled to come up with a sanitized version of private court transcripts mistakenly e-mailed to seven media outlets several weeks ago.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer denied a request from media attorneys for permission to publish the transcripts, which contain details from a June 21-22 hearing that was closed to the public. But in denying their request, Breyer told media attorneys to try again in two days, after the District Court has had a chance to come up with an edited version.
Tuesday, on the heels of Breyer’s opinion, District Judge Terry Ruckriegle ordered attorneys from the prosecution and defense to “confer immediately” to come up with a plan to jointly produce a version that does not include the alleged victim’s name or any information Ruckriegle has said the jury may not hear at the trial.
Ruckriegle, whose court clerk originally made the e-mail mistake, gave the attorneys until 5 p.m. Tuesday to create their sanitized transcript. That transcript could be released to the public if it meets with Ruckriegle’s approval.
The Colorado Supreme Court ruled that Ruckriegle’s order against publication was valid but the media ultimately has the right to publish what they’ve learned. The Colorado Supreme Court ordered Ruckriegle to remove from those transcripts everything that would not be admissible during the trial, and ruled that the redacted version could be released to the public.
“The Colorado Supreme Court ordered Ruckriegle to redact those two days of transcripts to include those materials that can be admissible at trial,” said local defense attorney and former federal and state prosecutor David Lugert.
Lugert said the redacted transcript will likely include testimony by defense expert witnesses regarding information about the alleged victim’s sexual activity within 72 hours of her rape exam and the origin of semen from someone other than Bryant found during her rape exam.
“The Colorado Supreme Court says if it’s going to come out at trial, it can come out now,” explained Lugert. “That information can be released to the media. They ordered everything removed that’s not going to be admissible.”
Lugert explained that the procedure could get the courts out of a tough First Amendment jam, giving the media the right to publish information they have, while protecting the alleged victim’s rights under Colorado’s rape shield law and victims rights laws. Still, Lugert said, it could be tough for prosecutors.
“This is the key information that the defense says is somehow helpful, and it will be released publicly,” said Lugert. “The prosecution will have no chance to respond.”
Ruckriegle says that information came from a private hearing, that some of it was never meant for public distribution, and that it would prejudice the jury pool. Those media outlets say it’s their First Amendment right to publish what they know, that Ruckriegle’s order creates “prior restraint,” or censorship, and have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to back them up.
First Amendment fight
The seven media organizations that received the transcripts consider it a First Amendment fight and have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out Ruckriegle’s order barring them from publishing the contents of those transcripts.
Monday night, Breyer rejected a media request to overturn Ruckriegle’s order but said the situation could be resolved if an edited version of the transcripts were released.
“Their release, I believe, is imminent,” Breyer wrote of the transcripts. “I recognize the importance of the constitutional interests at issue.”
Breyer said the brief delay will permit Ruckriegle’s court to clarify, “perhaps avoid, the controversy at issue here.”
The original transcripts were sent to seven news organizations by a court clerk last month. Ruckriegle immediately barred the media from publishing the information and threatened anyone who did with contempt of court.
So far, news outlets have grudgingly complied but call Ruckriegle’s order an unconstitutional restraint on a free press.
The documents were mistakenly sent to The Denver Post, The Los Angeles Times, CBS, Fox News, ESPN, the television show “Celebrity Justice” and The Associated Press.
“We’re happy that there’s movement toward releasing some of the material ” we don’t know how much ” but we believe there’s still a vital principle at stake that isn’t addressed by this ‘solution,”‘ said Kristin Gazlay, the AP’s deputy managing editor for national news.
“We would of course want to see what material is released before making any decision on whether to take further legal steps, but our biggest concern here is protecting the media’s First Amendment rights,” Galzay said.
In a related matter, Ruckriegle extended the plea bargain deadline until today.
Bryant, 25, has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault. He has said he had consensual sex with the woman, then 19, at the Lodge and Spa at Cordillera. If convicted, Bryant faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation, and a fine up to $750,000.
His trial begins Aug. 27 when potential jurors are ordered to report to court to complete a questionnaire with 115 questions. The 12-person panel will come from a 999-person jury pool, the largest ever called in Eagle County.
Ruckriegle ruled last week to allow evidence and witness testimony about Bryant’s alleged victim’s sexual activity during the three days prior to her rape exam at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs.
The defense claims the woman had sex with someone in the 15 hours after she left Bryant and before she contacted authorities, a charge denied by her attorney, John Clune.
Since the ruling, defense attorneys have subpoenaed at least five students at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, the alleged victim’s former school.
Preliminary Juror Questions
The 999 potential Eagle County jurors have received their summons for Kobe Bryant’s rape trial. They are to report Aug. 27 to fill out a final 115-question survey. These are some of the questions on their preliminary questionnaires:
– Date of Birth
– Marital status
– Spouse’s occupation
– Their ages
– Previous juror experience
– Prior court experience