Chief judge appoints himself to Bryant case; lawyers call him tough, fair
DENVER – Prosecutors and defenders in the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case should expect fair rulings issued with a heavy hand, according to lawyers who know the new judge in the case.
Fifth Judicial District Chief Judge Terry Ruckriegle on Thursday appointed himself to preside over the Bryant case instead of following the usual order of rotation among judges.
“”He’s a very careful and deliberate judge who demands a lot of the lawyers who appear in front of him in terms of preparation and professionalism,” said Scott Robinson, a Denver defense attorney who has appeared in front of Ruckriegle several times.
Robinson said Ruckriegle has experience with high-profile cases as both a prosecutor and a judge, and his experience makes him well prepared for the case.
District Judge Tom Moorhead, the newest judge in the 5th District, was in line to preside over the case under the rotating system used to assign cases. But Ruckriegle, who oversees the courthouse, has discretion to depart from the rotation.
A rotation system for case assignments is used in many courts to ensure fairness with a random selection for judges.
The 5th District includes five counties and Ruckriegle usually presides in cases in Breckenridge, 65 miles east of Eagle.
Ruckriegle is familiar with the Bryant case. He co-authored the decorum rules for news media covering the case and reviewed key rulings with Eagle County Judge Frederick Gannett before Bryant’s preliminary hearing.
Bryant, 25, is charged with sexually assaulting a 19-year-old employee of an Edwards resort while in town June 30 for knee surgery.
Ruckriegle’s appointment was announced without any fanfare. It was simply included in a memo to the media describing logistics for Bryant’s next court appearance on Nov. 10.
State courts administrator Karen Salaz said Ruckriegle will not be available at anytime during the case to answer questions from reporters or conduct interviews.
That’s a marked change from Gannett, who would chat with reporters in the hallway of the courthouse or in front of his courtroom in between cases.
A graduate of Indiana University, Ruckriegle worked as a prosecutor in the 5th Judicial District in the Georgetown office for nine years. He was appointed to the bench in 1984 and has served as chief judge since 1994.
In 2000 he was one of three finalists for a seat on the Colorado Supreme Court.
As judge, Ruckriegle will have the final say over determining the relevance of evidence and determining what, if any, aspects of the accuser’s sexual history can be used under the confines of the state’s rape shield law, said former Denver prosecutor Craig Silverman.
Ruckriegle will also determine the relevancy of the accuser’s medical records and any evidence relating to allegations she attempted suicide twice in the last year.
“”It’s good to have a judge who wants the case,” said Silverman. “”That makes it a lot easier for the parties and their lawyers and the media. He didn’t have to take this case but he chose to.”
In the spring of 2002, Ruckriegle presided at the trial of Chuck Garrison, a case prosecuted by then Deputy District Attorney Mark Hurlbert.
Garrison was charged with first-degree murder but was convicted of second-degree murder for killing his wife and burying her body in the backyard of their mountain home. Ruckriegle sentenced him to 30 years in prison, just under the maximum penalty of 32 years in prison Sharon Garrison’s relatives had asked for.