David vs. Goliath in court | VailDaily.com

David vs. Goliath in court

Jane Stebbins

District Attorney Mark Hurlbert is trying to determine how to best pit his relatively paltry $2 million budget against NBA basketball star Kobe Bryant’s $13 million annual salary.

Last week, Hurlbert filed a felony charge against NBA basketball star Kobe Bryant after a 19-year-old Eagle woman claimed he’d sexually assaulted her in his hotel room at Cordillera Lodge and Spa near Edwards. Bryant said the sex the two had was consensual.

If convicted, Bryant, 24, stands to lose more than his clean image. He has millions of dollars in contracts with Nike and McDonald’s, could serve anywhere from four years to life in prison and lose his job – at least for the upcoming season – as shooting guard with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Attorneys, sports experts and many others speculate he will throw any amount of money he can toward the case to clear his name.

Strapping the system

That could tap the already-strapped monetary and personnel resources of the Fifth Judicial District, which comprises Summit, Eagle, Clear Creek and Lake counties.

Bryant is represented by Denver-based attorneys Pamela Mackey and Hal Hadden, among the best criminal defense teams in the industry.

Hurlbert said he hasn’t decided if he will bring in other attorneys to help him prosecute the case.

“We’re still looking at that,” he said. “We’re still trying to see what we’ll need.”

One thing he may need is money. Hurlbert has a budget of about $2 million – money that goes to investigate and prosecute cases in the Fifth Judicial District. Of that, Eagle County chipped in $951,126 for 2003, and Summit County contributed $585,094. Lake and Clear Creek counties contributions were substantially smaller. Officials there could not be reached for comment.

By contrast, Bryant makes $13.5 million with the Lakers, and he recently penned a $45 million, five-year endorsement contract with Nike. Other endorsements with Coca-Cola, Upper Deck and McDonald’s, could total as much as $20 million. Next year, he is scheduled to make $14.625 million with the Lakers.

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

“We haven’t seen estimates about how much might be needed,” Holliday said. “But it will be expensive.”

Chipping in?

Hurlbert might ask Eagle County – or all the counties in his district – for supplemental money to fight the case.

“If it were me, that’s the course of action I’d take,” said former District Attorney Mike Goodbee, now working in the state Attorney General’s Office.

“I’d go in and say, “I’m about to get overwhelmed. In order to effectively handle this case, I’m going to need staff, lawyers, investigators,'” Goodbee said.

Hurlbert said he has yet to determine how much his office will need to prosecute Bryant.

“If Mark comes to us and says, “I need x-amount of dollars to fight this case,’ it’d be one heck of a discussion,” said Summit County Commissioner Bill Wallace.

In other jurisdictions around the country, small communities have had to raise taxes or consider cutting services in other departments to help fund the expensive cases.

Some small town judges have decided to forego prosecuting capital murder cases – and instead prosecute them as murder cases – because of a lack of funds. Some district attorneys have hired other, more qualified lawyers to fight a case on their behalf.

“Rainy-day fund’

Summit County commissioners don’t want to resort to increasing taxes or cutting services in other areas, Holliday said.

Summit County has about $2 million in a “rainy-day fund” and another $300,000 or so in its TABOR reserve.

The impacts – from both a monetary and staffing point of view – will be far-reaching, Goodbee said.

“When you have to dedicate resources to a case of that magnitude, the impact is felt everywhere – from the other high-profile cases all the way down to the minor ones,” Goodbee said. “It forces the DA to do a priority shift and decide where to allocate resources.”


Where Kobe meets Laci

In Modesto, Calif., where a man, Scott Peterson, is being held on charges of murdering his wife, Laci, and their unborn son, Mayor Carmen Sabatino plans to bring up at a City Council meeting tonight how to deal with the scores of TV vans that have clogged the streets outside the Stanislaus County Courthouse.

Currently parking spots in the town-owned lots are $12.50 a day; he wants the media to pay up to $250 a day for the inconvenience. The money could be used to offset the cost of the court case and other municipal costs.

“Our ordinances aren’t designed for the impact we’ve had here,” said City of Modesto Police Det. Doug Ridenour. “We don’t have the personnel to enforce this, but we have to find a spot where they can get their job done. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Stanislaus County (Calif.) Sheriff’s Department officials believe more than 70 TV vans will line the streets outside the courthouse during the pretrial set for September. If the mayor succeeds in implementing the plan – the constitutionality of such action has yet to be determined – it could result in $17,500 a day for the city’s coffers.

“They had them out here for weeks,” said Linda Sole, a deputy executive officer for the city. “A lot of the public was complaining, people couldn’t park, they had to make a special lane for the fire department.”

Summit County Commissioner Bill Wallace said he’d like to consider doing the same, if needed.

“Some high-profile cases get premium (advertising dollar) rates during the cases, so why shouldn’t a small community be able to charge them a fee to offset the cost of an expensive case?” he said. “Why should the taxpayers of the Fifth Judicial District have to spend money so other people (media) can make money? Without that income, I’m not sure how the Fifth Judicial District is going to do it. If there was no media involved, we would have to figure out a way to bear that cost. It’s a tough one. I don’t envy the position Mark is in.”

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