Court blunders again |

Court blunders again

Vail Daily/Bret HartmanKobe Bryant and attorney Pamela Mackey enter the Eagle County Justice Center Tuesday for the second and final day of pretrial hearings this week.

For the fourth time, Kobe Bryant’s alleged victim’s name has been made public in a court document or hearing.Not only that, but the document containing her name posted Wednesday on the court’s Web site was supposed to be filed secretly, under seal, and was not meant for public distribution. At 1:55 p.m. Wednesday, it was added to the Colorado Judicial Branch Web site, which has a section dealing specifically with filings and pleadings connected with the Bryant rape case.”These are grievous mistakes, they have serious consequences and the court doesn’t seem interested in doing anything about it,” said the alleged victim’s attorney, John Clune. “The court should not only apologize to this family, but also explain why they should not be suspicious of now three violations of this girl’s privacy.”(Her family) has no confidence that anything done through the courts won’t end in disaster,” he added. It’s the second sealed filing in the case that court officials have placed in the hands of the media. In late June, District Judge Terry Ruckriegle’s court reporter e-mailed transcripts of a closed hearing to seven major media outlets. The judge immediately ordered the media not to publish or broadcast anything from those transcripts, a decision lawyers for the organizations have appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court as a violation of the First Amendment.Last fall, the Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs, where the young woman and Bryant underwent rape examinations, accidentally turned over her medical records to lawyers in the case.”Not only did they improperly release her name, but this error is now further compounded because the document was described as being filed under seal,” said David Lugert, a local defense attorney and former state and federal prosecutor. “Yet it still reached the national media and public.”

The alleged victim’s name appeared on the Web site Wednesday just weeks after Clune made an impassioned plea to the trial judge to help protect his client by shutting down the Web site. Ruckriegle still has not ruled on that month-old request. Last September, court officials also publicly distributed the alleged victim’s name as part of another filing. That filing stayed on the court’s Web site for about 90 minutes.”It is inconceivable how this court can explain its continual pattern of re-victimizing this 20-year-old girl,” said Clune. “Today’s stunning lapse sends a destructive message to all victims that the very institution charged with the protection of victim’s rights has little interest in succeeding in that effort.”In his opposition to the Web site, Clune has told Ruckriegle the only moments his client has wavered were when those sworn to protect her – he specifically named the District Attorney’s Office, the hospitals and the courts – have failed to do so.Court officials said Wednesday’s blunder happened when they tried “a new procedure.””Today’s erroneous release of the alleged victim’s name stemmed from a new procedure adopted by the court which was intended to assist with research for the court’s opinions,” wrote Karen Salaz of the State Court Administrator’s Office. “Unfortunately, the clerk, when told that a document was ready for posting, selected the wrong document from the shared folder, and a critical safeguard was omitted that would have averted the release of this information,” Salaz wrote. “The court administrator intends to apologize to the alleged victim and her family, and is considering what action may be appropriate for the staff.” The publication of her name Wednesday came just days after the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that the state has “an interest of the highest order” to protect victims’ privacy, encourage victims to report sexual assault, and “further the prosecution and deterrence of sexual assault.” In a 4-3 decision, they upheld Ruckriegle’s order barring media from publishing transcripts of that June 21-22 hearing, thus allowing prior restraint in this specific case.Saying Ruckriegle’s order violates the First Amendment, media attorneys appealed that ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. The nation’s high court has never ruled in favor of prior restraint. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer denied the media’s appeal, but told the media to appeal again in two days, when attorneys for both sides had finished hammering out a sanitized version of the transcripts.”This judge must learn that the trust a victim places in the judiciary is the foundation for the courage that all victims must have to endure the brutal nature of rape prosecutions,” said Clune. “Now we have an order from our own judge, the chief judge of our district, sending a clear message to this victim that she will not be protected.”

Clune said it’s an unfortunate development for other sexual assault victims.”This girl now has complete lack of trust,” said Clune. “This is devastating not only to this girl, but any other victim out there’s who’s paying attention to this case.”==========================================Three strikes• Wednesday, the alleged victim’s name was part of a court order posted on the court’s Web site. That order was supposed to be filed under seal.• Late June, the judge’s court reporter e-mailed details of a private hearing to seven media outlets. The judge ordered the media not to print it. That order has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court as a violation of the media’s First Amendment rights.• September 2003, her name was listed in a court filing posted on the court’s Web site. It stayed there about 90 minutes.==========================================

==========================================Filed under sealJudge Terry Ruckriegle’s order, which was supposed to be sealed from public view, deals with elements of Kobe Bryant’s rape exam and information that is not admissible and will not be heard be heard by the jury during the trial. The Vail Daily will not publish details of the order.”This information was supposed to be filed under seal, and we feel an obligation to respect that spirit, even in light of the court’s blunder,” said Vail Daily Managing Editor Don Rogers. The Daily is read by 90 percent of the community from which the jury will be pulled, and the paper has a responsibility to consider the judge’s intention to make the court process fair as well as its First Amendment right to publish information it receives, he said.”But this is our decision, not the judge’s, at this point,” Rogers said. Ruckriegle has ordered attorneys for both sides to come to an agreement regarding the use at trial of physical evidence obtained from Bryant’s rape exam.Bryant is scheduled to be back in court Friday for another pretrial hearing. This issue is expected to be part of the agenda. His trial is scheduled to begin Aug. 27.Bryant, 25, has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault. He has said the sexual encounter with a 19-year-old employee at the Lodge and Spa at Cordillera was consensual. If convicted, he faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation, and a fine up to $750,000.==========================================

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