DA’s office may seek more money | VailDaily.com

DA’s office may seek more money

Veronica Whitney

District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said Tuesday he might be asking Eagle County for supplemental money to prosecute the Kobe Bryant case.

“We’re still putting numbers together to see how much it would take to prosecute this case,” said Hurlbert, who has a $2 million budget to prosecute cases in the Fifth Judicial District, comprised of Eagle, Summit, Clear Creek and Lake counties.

By comparison, Bryant, an NBA basketball star, makes about $13 million a year, and he recently landed a $45 million, five-year endorsement contract with Nike – giving him a financial advantage over the DA’s office.

“We don’t know if we will need more resources; we’re still deciding,” Hurlbert said. “It’s because of the complexity of the case and the amount of media involved that we’re still considering.”

Eagle County Administrator Jack Ingstad said Hurlbert called him before his Friday announcement he had filed a class-3 felony sexual assault against Bryant.

A 19-year-old Eagle woman claims Bryant sexually assaulted her in his hotel room at Cordillera Lodge and Spa, near Edwards. Bryant has said the sex the two had was consensual.

“Mark called me and asked what would be the process if he needed to request more money to prosecute the case,” Ingstad said. “He didn’t mention an amount.”

Getting help

So far, Hurlbert has only hired one more person, Krista Flannigan, a public relations specialist, to help with the case at a cost of $50 an hour.

“We hired her so I can actually concentrate on my job,” Hurlbert said. Flannigan’s first assignment was dealing with hundreds of media professionals, who packed the Eagle County Justice Center for last week’s

press conference, where Hurlbert announced he was filing charges.

“This is the only thing I’ve done,” he said. “It may certainly be more. We might need more staff.”

The District Attorney’s Office, which in Eagle County currently consists of Hurlbert and four deputy district attorneys, has a budget of about $2 million to investigate and prosecute cases. Of that, Eagle County chipped in $951,000 for 2003, and Summit County contributed $585,094. Lake and Clear Creek counties contributions were smaller.

“The counties’ contributions are made following a formula that takes into account the number of cases and population in each county,” Ingstad said.

Ken Lane, spokesman for the state’s General Attorney’s Office, said most likely, Hurlbert will need additional money to prosecute the case.

“I’m sure he will be swamped,” Lane said. “Unfortunately, the fact that (Bryant) is a celebrity means the case is going to cost more to the prosecution.”

The glare of the case and the number of motions hearings may drive up the cost of the case, he said.

“It’s unfortunate and it will pass on to taxpayers,” Lane said. “Also, the fact that he is a celebrity means that he will hire expensive attorneys.”

Bryant is represented by Denver-based attorneys Pamela Mackey and Hal Hadden, considered one of the top criminal defense teams in the industry.

“We have 210 attorneys in staff and in some cases we can help,” Lane said.

“A battle of expert witnesses’

Depending upon how many motions are filed, it’s going to take extra time and expertise to address all the legal issues that can be involved in a sexual-assault case, said Peter Weir, executive director of the Colorado District Attorney’s Council.

“Prosecution of sex assault cases, often times involve a number of witnesses including a number of experts,” he said. “Generally, you see a lot of legal issues that are raised, and all these things are very costly and time consuming for a prosecutor’s office. You have to see if they (defense) will make a battle of expert witnesses.”

Expert witnesses, like forensic or medical experts, can be very expensive, Weir said.

“There was a murder case where a psychiatrist cost the defense $70,000,” he said. “Experts can cost up to six figures. And the DA’s office doesn’t have that money.”

Prosecutors can only spend $100 an hour – and up to $2,000 – on expert witnesses, Weir said.

“And on sexual-assault cases, depending upon the nature of the evidence, medical and forensic testimony can be relevant,” Weir said. “The more complex a case, the more resources it will take.”

Some provisions

However, Weir said, there are provisions for some necessary expenses incurred by the prosecution.

“Mandated costs can be reimbursed through the state budget if the case meets statutory criteria,” Weir said.

Hurlbert said he might ask the other counties in his district to pitch in, too.

“I told him (Hurlbert) to let us know if he needs something,” Ingstad said. “The sooner, the better.”

County commissioners decide whether to allocate additional money for the District Attorney’s Office.

Summit County manager Ron Holliday said there are few options the Fifth Judicial District can pursue, and county commissioners are just beginning to discuss them.

“How much money the defense has to spend in a case isn’t a factor on how the prosecution handles a case,” Weir said. “Often times, defense attorneys set the agenda and the DA responds to them.”

Summit Daily News reporter Jane Stebbins contributed to this story.

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.

Support Local Journalism