Judge apologizes for court blunder
District Judge Terry Ruckriegle apologized for this week’s court mistakes, a gesture that was both revered and reviled.As the public session wound to a close in Friday morning’s pretrial hearing, Ruckriegle took a couple minutes to read a prepared apology for the court’s recent missteps, which included posting the alleged victim’s name on the state court Web site in a document that was supposed to be filed privately.”I want to express my sincere apology to the people of Eagle County, the people of Colorado and the people who have come here from far away for mistakes made by the courts this week,” said Ruckriegle, looking around the courtroom.Court Administrator Karen Salaz said the victim and her family would receive a personal letter of apology from court personnel. Ruckriegle, however, did not specifically mention the alleged victim or her family, a detail not lost on their attorney, former local prosecutor John Clune.”He apologized to the county, the state and people from around the world. He did not apologize to them – the family or the victim,” said Clune. “There’s only one person who has been harmed by these mistakes.”Former Denver district attorney Norm Early said a direct apology to the alleged accuser wouldn’t have violated ethic rules.”If the court caused harmed or injury, it would not be inappropriate to apologize to that person – it occurs so rarely that there’s almost never a need for it,” Early said. “It would not be inappropriate and could be cathartic for the young woman.” Clune said the alleged victim and her parents were upset with Ruckriegle’s remarks.”His remarks were self serving and insulting,” said Clune. “His refusal to apologize to that family as they sat right there in his courtroom is very telling about the sincerity of his remarks.”He apologized to people from around the world, but the people most effected live eight blocks away.”Ruckriegle quoted Jim Frey, the author of “Parenting Through Love and Logic,” who calls mistakes “SLOs – significant learning opportunities.”Cynthia Stone of the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault called Ruckriegle’s apology sincere.”All along we’ve felt these were mistakes, horrific mistakes to be sure, but just mistakes,” said Stone. “It’s indicative of a court system stretched to the limit by this case and personnel under tremendous pressure.”
Stone conjectured the mistakes have done tremendous harm to the alleged victim and possibly the jury selection process.”The Web site and electronic distribution of sealed materials should stop, until they can guarantee that these mistakes will not happen,” said Stone. “We will not vilify anyone. These are just mistakes.”Ruckriegle said after the Bryant case is over, and even while it’s going on, the wheels of justice will continue to turn. He said “some of the same decisions based upon the laws and constitutions that we are sworn to uphold” will be made, in “sometimes empty courtrooms.”Besides this week’s posting on the court Web site, Ruckriegle’s court stenographer accidentally e-mailed transcripts of a private June 21-22 hearing to seven media outlets. In Sept. 2003, court employees failed to omit the alleged victim’s name from a document filed on the court’s Web site.The ApologyJudge Terry Ruckriegle Friday apologized for the publication this week of sealed documents: “Before we recess the public portion of these proceedings, I want to express my sincere apology to the people of Eagle County, the people of Colorado and the people who have come here from far away for the mistake made by the courts this week.”Several years ago when this court began sponsoring classes called ‘Parenting with Love and Logic,’ a man named Jim Fey taught me, and thousands of other parents, that when children and people make mistakes, they should not be castigated or ridiculed. He called those mistakes ‘SLOs – significant learning opportunities,’ where the people making the mistakes and those around them learned lessons in life and grew from them as part of their development.”Long after all of the people who have flocked to Eagle County from around the country, and some from around the world, have returned to their own communities, all of us who work for this court and courts around the country will be here, in sometimes empty courtrooms, to make some of the same decisions based upon the laws and constitutions we are sworn to uphold.”For all of those who come through these doors, victims and defendants alike, whose names are never known and never sought, I can only assure you that I have learned lessons from these mistakes, that we will give the best human effort not to let it happen again.”Lastly, I want to commend the responsible media who have abided by not only the spirit of the law, but the intended directions of the court.”Again, I apologize.”
What happened FridayIn public sessions:• Judge Ruckriegle ruled the jury will hear results of Bryant’s rape exam. He had originally decided it was not relevant, but Bryant’s defense attorneys asked the results be included. Prosecutors did not object.• Prosecutor Ingrid Bakke said the only DNA evidence the prosecution intends to submit is from Bryant’s T-shirt, which he gave sheriff’s investigators when they questioned him during the early morning hours of July 2, 2003. That T-shirt was stained with three spots of the alleged victim’s blood. Bakke said they don’t need any other DNA evidence. Bakke said they also intend to submit Bryant’s tape recorded statements from that interrogation.• Ruckriegle said he would likely reduce the 115 questions potential jurors will have to answer when they fill out their questionnaires on Aug. 27. Attorneys for both sides will receive copies of those questionnaires to study through the following weekend.• Prosecutors want a “jury consultant” in the room during jury questioning. Ruckriegle said they could have anyone in the room they wanted, as long as it was an attorney.In private sessions:• Behind closed doors, attorneys negotiated what DNA evidence – from both Bryant and his alleged victim – will be allowed at trial, and how it would be presented. They also negotiated what details would be included in transcripts from a private June 21-22 hearing that will be made public Monday or Tuesday. Parts of those hearings dealt with DNA evidence.Next Up• The next court date is Aug. 16. Jury selection is to begin on Aug. 27 with opening statements anticipated to begin on Sept. 7.
Reporters Notebook Notes, quotes and antidotes from KobelandBy the numbersThe Vail Daily opined recently that the alleged victim’s phone harassment hassles could have been easily cured by changing her phone number. Apparently, it wasn’t an original idea. It turns out she and her family have changed it several times, and making the change was one of their original moves. They keep the old one just to help the FBI catch dunderheads who call it and leave horrible messages. Two of three caught doing it are currently guests in the federal Crossbar Hotel. The third could be headed that way in the extremely near future.Breaking AwayDistrict Judge Terry Ruckriegle was wearing one of those yellow Lance Armstrong bracelets. Lance Armstrong, for the uninitiated, just won his sixth straight Tour de France, making him one of the greatest athletes since the invention of sweat. His win infuriated the entire nation of France, a worthy goal all by itself. France is the county that, in the immortal words of the great P.J. O’Rourke, taught the world about rudeness and giving up in world wars.The bracelet is fitting. Ruckriegle is a native son of Kokomo, Indiana, the region of the classic cycling film, “Breaking Away.”