Kobe Bryant’s accuser files lawsuit
Kobe Bryant will now have to defend himself on two legal fronts.His alleged victim expanded her case Tuesday with a lawsuit asking for unspecified monetary damages exceeding $75,000.Her attorneys, John Clune and Lin Wood, filed the lawsuit against Bryant in federal court in Denver, claiming the alleged victim was “bent over a chair” by Bryant “and forced to remain in that position” while Bryant “sexually assaulted and raped her.”Clune and Wood also raised the possibility of a “history of attempting to commit similar acts of violent sexual assault on females he has just met.”Bryant’s defense attorney Pamela Mackey has repeatedly said Bryant is innocent and that he will be exonerated of the criminal charge against him.Tuesday’s civil complaint contains numerous details about the alleged sexual assault on June 30, 2003, at the Lodge and Spa at Cordillera. Bryant was a guest there, and the alleged victim worked at the front desk. Bryant’s criminal trial is set to begin on Friday, Aug. 27, in Eagle. The largest jury pool in Eagle County history has been summoned, 999 potential jurors.District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Krista Flannigan said Tuesday’s suit, filed just after noon, does not change their intent to go forward with their criminal case against Bryant.”The civil complaint filed in federal court has nothing to do with the criminal case in state District Court,” said Flannigan. “We are moving ahead with the criminal prosecution in the case against Kobe Bryant.”
Local attorneys disagreed about what Tuesday’s lawsuit filing means to the Eagle County jurors who will hear the criminal case and decide whether Bryant is guilty of sexual assault.Local attorney Rohn Robbins said that while prosecutors are moving ahead, Tuesday’s filing puts District Attorney Mark Hurlbert in a difficult position.Robbins explained that prosecutors have several of the alleged victim’s statements. If the prosecution’s star witness says she no longer wants to cooperate with the criminal case, as Clune and Wood have suggested she might, prosecutors can force her to testify in this month’s criminal trial.And that could make her a witness “hostile” to the prosecution.”If she says she no longer wants to cooperate, the district attorney may be forced to abandon the case,” said Robbins.Local defense attorney and former state and federal prosecutor David Lugert took a different viewpoint, saying the lawsuit is another blow to Bryant’s defense. He said the downturn in Bryant’s legal fortunes began with last week’s magazine article claiming to establish a pattern of behavior by Bryant – citing an Orlando, Fla., woman, and continued with the lawsuit filing containing graphic details about Bryant’s alleged behavior the night of the incident June 30, 2003, in his hotel suite.Robbins questioned the timing of Tuesday’s civil filing.”I think it’s a mistake to file this now,” Robbins said. “I think it paints her as having monetary goals in mind.”Robbins said the civil case won’t be heard until the criminal matter is over, and that the earliest it could be heard in a federal courtroom is 18 months.How it affects the criminal trial, scheduled to begin Aug. 27, remains to be seen.”To the extent that you find a jury, it could undermine their impartiality,” said Robbins. “If Mr. Bryant is found not guilty, or guilty, in the criminal case, it can be brought up and will be brought up in the civil case.”Local defense attorney and former prosecutor Jim Fahrenholtz said the alleged victim’s lawsuit creates the possibility that Bryant’s defense attorneys can call her as a witness during Bryant’s criminal trial. He said they could question her about assertions that the entire case has been about the money, in an attempt to discredit her.Her attorneys have said her case was never about the money, but the search for justice and truth.Last week they went on television shows to decry the inadvertent release of transcripts of a secret hearing dealing mainly with a defense expert’s testimony about DNA evidence that the expert asserted showed the alleged victim had sex after her encounter with Bryant. Criminal trial Judge Terry Ruckriegle, under pressure from the U.S. Supreme Court, last week released a lightly edited version of the transcripts to the public.The prosecution was also dealt a blow by Ruckriegle’s ruling last month that evidence of sexual activity during the 72-hour period before the alleged victim underwent her rape examination July 1 would be admissable in the trial. Samples of seminal fluid from someone other than Bryant were found in and on the outside of the woman’s body, as well as in two pairs of underwear, including the pair she wore to the rape exam.
The civil case landed in federal Judge Richard Matsch’s court. Ironically, it was Matsch’s gag order from the Oklahoma City bombing case on which Bryant’s defense attorneys modeled their request for a blanket gag order in the Bryant criminal case. Ruckriegle granted that request, banning any “extrajudicial statements” by attorneys and almost anyone else connected with the case.”That gag order should effectively prohibit Bryant’s defense attorneys from commenting on the federal complaints filed Tuesday,” said Lugert. “The gag order allows no extrajudicial comments whatsoever. He (Judge Ruckriegle) did not limit his order to the criminal case.”Fahrenholtz called Tuesday’s filing a ploy by the alleged victim’s attorneys.”This is a way for accuser’s attorneys to circumvent the gag order,” said Fahrenholtz. “The message being sent out two weeks before jury selection is masterful, and deliberate timing. Filing it now seems to be a way of making the accuser’s attorneys to make the allegation that he has done this before. This is one reason gag orders do more harm than good. The other side is prohibited from responding.”While on the federal bench, Matsch has presided over the desegregation of Denver schools; held then-U.S. Secretary of Health Otis Bowen in contempt of court for failing to set adequate standards for the inspection of nursing homes; ruled that the Ku Klux Klan could march in Denver on the Rev. Martin Luther King’s birthday; and presided over the trial of four members of the white supremacist anti-Semitic group known as “The Order.” They were charged in the 1984 murder of radio talk show host Alan Berg.Bryant 25, has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault. He has said he had consensual sex with the woman, then 19, at the Lodge and Spa at Cordillera where she worked last summer. Bryant faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation, and a fine of up to $750,000 if convicted.
The lawsuit laid out generally the same case against Bryant as prosecutors: That Bryant attacked the woman in his room at the Cordillera resort, causing her lingering emotional and physical problems.”The conduct of defendant Bryant demonstrates willful, reckless and intentional criminal conduct and that entire want of care that raises a conscious indifference to consequences,” wrote Clune and Wood.They accused Bryant of flirting with the woman, a front desk employee, during a tour of the resort, and said they kissed after they ended up in his room. Investigators have said the encounter turned violent after flirting by both Bryant and his accuser, and that she told Bryant “no” at least twice.The lawsuit alleges that Bryant blocked her exit from the room, grabbed her, and forced her over a chair to rape her.Bryant’s hands were around the woman’s neck, the attorneys said, “a perceived threat of potential strangulation if she resisted his advances.”The attorneys also accused Bryant of “attempting to commit similar acts of violent sexual assault on females he has just met.”
According to the National Center for State Courts, about 3 percent of civil cases ever make it to trial, with federal district courts regularly throwing out roughly 80 percent of its cases. Most of the rest are settled out of court. If the plaintiffs do make it to trial, they generally win as often as they lose and get punitive damages in only about 3 percent of the cases they do manage to win. These punitive-damage awards are often capped or reduced on appeal.Randy Wyrick covers the Kobe case for the Vail Daily newspaper, based in Vail, Colorado. He can be reached at (970) 949-0555 ext. 615 or at email@example.com.