High, low acts under this big top | VailDaily.com

High, low acts under this big top

Don Rogers

Kobe Bryant will spend his first night in Eagle County since you know when, with his two-day court hearing that begins today. Assuredly, this time his minders are booked in a room close by.

While reporters search for reputed girlfriends in NBA ports, Bryant’s judge has some truly important questions to sort through.

Yes, the case is prurient enough to attract the likes of the National Inquirer and “Celebrity Justice,” and occasionally to turn the rest of us newsies into a remarkable likeness of the shrieking British press.

But the legal questions are real and some will set precedents. Does Colorado’s rape shield law, designed to protect an alleged victim’s general sexual history from unwarranted attack, also cover specific incidents around the time of the alleged rape that offer alternative explanations for the woman’s injuries? Or does the accused’s rights to a fair trial trump the shield law in this instance?

Can the judge allow confidential medical records that might have a bearing in the case to be used in court?

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Judge Terry Ruckriegle on Friday ruled that the defense lawyers could not have access to notes taken by a sexual assault victim counselor. He remarked that the law was so strict that even he could not read what the counselor wrote during an interview with Bryant’s alleged victim.

Interesting that although the judge did not know what he was ruling on, the defense was interested in a very specific passage. How did they know?

The District Attorney’s Office mistakenly gave the defense confidential medical records months ago, which resulted in great detail in subsequent defense motions to admit the material into the trial. I’m not sure whether Bryant’s counsel got a hold of the rape counselor’s notes this way, too. But clearly, they have it.

Anyway, there’s one battle finished. Many more high and low ones will follow on the long path to trial, including over whether a search warrant issued for the day could be used at night. Now that would be a helluva a hair on which to hang dismissal of evidence.

The presence of undercover officers has long been intriguing. What interest might drug agents have in investigating rape allegations?

Looks like we’ve been on the wrong trail with our in-house hypotheses, though. Authorities say the narcs were simply called in to help with the investigation. It’s a small county, and it’s not unusual to call in assistance. Still, all this help and no one thoroughly searched the hotel room where the incident took place?

Also interesting – and edging a little close to the First Amendment issue of “prior restraint,” which dwarfs Kobe’s troubles – our media attorneys sounded as if the judge were ordering the press not to report on the presence of the undercover agents while he struggled with the rather straightforward question of how to have them testify without being identifiable in court. Well, duh. Put up a screen.

Plus, we’ve long known who they are. That this should be a big secret obviously didn’t occur to anyone at the courthouse all these months until now. No, we’re not printing their names – our call, not the judge’s. It’s not his to make. Nor is it his place to order ahead of time what the press may or may not report. We’re touching the very bedrock of what makes America America here.

This whole thing is fascinating well beyond the “celeb accused of heinous crime” for all sorts of high and low reasons. The implications for the law, police, press, public policy and society just go on and on.

An exchange at the last hearing between Bryant attorney Pamela Mackey and the lawyer representing the victims advocate scratched at the social mores imbedded in this case, and there are a lot of them.

The lawyer, Inga Causey, launched into a speech about the possible chilling effect of this case on women reporting rapes in the future. Mackey retorted with a reference to America’s history of lynching black men caught with white women while suggesting Causey leave “political agendas” out of her arguments.

The journalists and commentators ate that one up, if not with quite the gusto that greeted Mackey’s remark about sex in three days with three men back during the preliminary hearing in October. That was the same day County Judge Fred Gannett offered her a muzzle if she couldn’t stop repeating the alleged victim’s name in open court.

When Judge Ruckriegle picked up the case in District Court, one of his first decisions was that the participants could utter her name in court, just not outside.

Glad that was settled.

Managing Editor Don Rogers can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 600, or editor@vaildaily.com

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