Courts readies for mundane side of Bryant trial
EAGLE ” While defense and prosecuting attorneys are brainstorming their legal strategies for the Kobe Bryant rape trial, which begins Friday, court administrators are working out some critical logistics issues.
The challenge is to keep the local court system running smoothly while accommodating a case that is so big an unprecedented 999 jury summons have been sent out. Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers superstar, is accused of raping a then 19-year-old hotel clerk in Eagle County last summer.
Fifth Judicial District administrator Chris Yuhas compares dealing with the high publicity trial to “a pig in a python” ” it’s a big deal while it’s happening and then it goes away.
Yuhas said court personnel have been working on the details that will keep the court running.
Juries are a challenge to assemble in Eagle County, because of the transient nature of the resort community, Yuhas said.
The pool of jurors is actually determined by a “jury wheel,” a random selection from a computer database in Denver. The names of potential jurors are pulled from several different data bases, including driver’s licenses, voter registration and motor vehicle registration. Names are cross-checked against income tax records, but hose data bases aren’t necessarily updated every year, Yuhas said.
“We draw from the entire county,” says Yuhas.
Subsequently, every time jury summons are sent out, a significant number will go to people who no longer live in the county. The jury wheel, because of the data bases, also taps ineligible people, such as second-home owners ” who have established residence in a different state, but registered a vehicle locally ” or foreign workers who do not qualify to sit on a jury.
Then there’s the summoned jurors who have some compelling reasons they can’t sign on for what is expected to be at least a three-week trial: college students who have to go back to school; self-employed people whose business would collapse in that period of time; or people with medical issues who can’t sit through a lengthy trial.
“We have to calculate in the back of our minds how many of those folks will ask to be excused,” Yuhas said.
Add the extensive pre-trial publicity in the Kobe case to the mix, and that explains the precedent-setting number of juror summons. If a jury can’t be seated, that could lead to a mistrial, and force the process to start all over again.
“We want to have enough jurors,” explains Yuhas.
The jury pool for the Bryant trail is about triple the number of people that are typically summoned for a trial in this district. Some high profile murder cases, such as the recent Kathleen Denson case in Eagle County and the Chuck Garrison case in Summit County, do required larger jury pools. Yuhas says 500 jury summons were sent out for each of those cases.
But just because 999 summons for the Bryant trial were sent out, doesn’t mean that many people will show up at the Eagle County Justice Center on the first day of the trial, Yuhas said.
“Historically, our yield is about one-third of our call. We sent out 999 summons hoping we would get at least 350 to 400 people to show up,” Yuhas said.
Not all the people who have received a juror summons for the Bryant trial will stampede to the Justice Center at 8 a.m., Friday. That first day of the trial will involve the completion of questionnaires by potential jurors and summoned citizens have been asked to report at staggered times.
In the days before the trial, a voice message on the court’s answering machine will instruct jurors, depending on the number assigned on their summons, to report at a specific time. The first group will come in at 8 a.m., the next at 9:30 a.m., and so on.
Once the questionnaires are completed, copies will be presented to the defense and the prosecution. The attorneys will study the papers over the weekend, and then, starting Aug. 30, potential jurors will be called back for more in-depth questioning. Again, staggered times will be assigned for the call-backs.
There’s no rule regarding how long jury selection may take. Both defense and prosecuting attorneys have indicated they expect to spend about three days selecting a jury. The actual trial could take from two to four weeks. Yuhas said the court system has set aside courtrooms for the entire month of September.
“We hope it doesn’t take that long,” she added.
Sequestering of a jury is a decision made by the presiding judge. That normally doesn’t happen.
Under state law, employed jurors are paid for the first three days of jury service by their employers. Unemployed jurors have the option of asking the court for reasonable expenses for the period.
After the third day, the state pays county and district court jurors $50 per day for jury service.