On the road for Kobe Bryant
“Hey, you cut your hair again!” a correspondent for People magazine told Peggy Lowe of the Rocky Mountain News while both waited in a crowded courtroom. The reporters were there Thursday for Kobe Bryant’s first appearance at the Eagle County Justice Center before the judge who will preside over his trial.
Lowe and People’s correspondent are good buddies amidst the media circle that is covering the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case that started in the summer. Both live in Denver and they have crossed paths covering state and national news.
Meantime, KOA News Radio reporter Alex Stone and ABC national radio reporter Steffan Tubbs chatted about the Laci Peterson case, which Tubbs had just covered in Modesto, Calif.
Stone, 23, of Denver knows Tubbs, 31, of Los Angeles, since both covered the Columbine shooting Anniversary in 2000 in Littleton. They met again last year for the Hayman Fire.
“It’s good to see everybody, but they are long days,” said Tubbs, who hours after covering the hearing Thursday in Eagle County was again on his way to cover the Peterson case in California. “It’s good to see people you know, but it’s also unfortunate that it has to happen under these circumstances.”
In the past two months, some of the reporters and photographers covering the Bryant case had shuttled from California for the Peterson case to Las Vegas for the tiger mauling of Roy Horn to Eagle County for the Bryant case.
“It tends to be a circuit,” the correspondent for People said.
Stone, as well as Tubbs, said the long days covering these kind of cases are the most difficult part. They both have to be ready at 3 a.m. for their first broadcast for the East Coast.
“We work on eastern time. During the preliminary hearing we started at 3 a.m. and didn’t get done until midnight,” Stone said. Bryant’s preliminary hearing in October lasted two days.
On the road
Court TV reporter Vinnie Politan, also in town to cover Bryant’s hearing, said he goes where the action is. After covering the Peterson case in California last week, Politan came to Eagle for Bryant’s case. Thursday was Bryant’s third appearance at the Justice Center since he was charged with sexually assaulting an employee of the Lodge at Cordillera in June.
“I’m on the road 60 percent of the time,” said Politan, who has been covering the Bryant case since the beginning.
Politan a 38-year-old former New Jersey attorney will soon be hosting his own program on Court TV.
“Kobe will be my last assignment as a reporter,” he said. “I’ve been here for the preliminary hearing, so I’ll have the inside perspective.”
Thursday was the sixth time that Court TV producer Grace Wong was in Eagle County to cover the Bryant case.
“I love coming here,” said Wong, a 42-year-old from Jersey City who has been with Court TV for eight years. “Every time I come, I see different scenery and yesterday I saw what I’ve always wanted to see: the bighorn sheep.”
Wong, who is in charge of a crew of five and all the logistics of getting on the air, said it’s been a pleasure to work in Eagle County.
“I’ve never worked with a group of county officials that have been as cooperative,” she said.
Politan said working as a Court TV reporter is more interesting than being a lawyer.
“As a lawyer, you’re in court 5 percent of the time and as a reporter, 50 percent,” he said. “And there’s less paperwork. Also, I’m only involved in interesting cases. As a lawyer, you have to work on the boring cases, too.”
The Bryant case seems to have drawn more interest than other, similar cases, Politan said.
“It crosses all demographics,” he said. “Kobe Bryant is a celebrity and Americans revere super athletes.”
In her experience covering cases across the country, Wong said, the quality of justice improves for the people with money.
“They have money to challenge the prosecution’s evidence,” Wong said. “If you’re innocent and poor and you’re indicted with murder, you’re in a bad spot.”
But Politan said if you’re a high profile case, you’re likely to get a worse plea offer – although a lighter sentence.
“I don’t think it’s unfair to the poor people because there’s still the same burden of proof,” he said.
Fighting for seats
After the hearing, after the friendly “hellos” and animated chats, the media is left to do one thing: get a seat in the courtroom for the next hearing and the trial.
“When you have the international media and the entertainment media all interested in the case, it becomes a competitive situation,” Wong said. “Now, we’re fighting for seats.”
There are 25 seats in the courtroom assigned to the media. Twelve have been designated for broadcast and 13 for print and wire services.
At a meeting Thursday, a few hours after Bryant’s hearing, reporters and producers converged in the media center tent by the Justice Center to discuss the seating for the next hearings and the trial.
“That’s another reason why cameras in the courtroom are a good idea,” Wong said.
After dividing the group into broadcast and print, reporters and producers from as close as Vail and as far as New York City began their negotiations.
“I believe we should divide it in local, regional, national, magazines and wire services,” a newspaper reporter proposed.
“The local media should only get one seat and share it and the Denver papers should each get one,” said one reporter for a national weekly magazine.
“How many seats should the New York papers have?” said another.
“Only one? They have some of the largest readership.”
“I think the Orange County paper has to be considered as local, too,” said a reporter for the Orange County Register.
Suddenly, good old friends are competing and everyone is ready to represent their publication.
In the end, it all ends with more friendly chat and “see you soon.”
Even local attorneys have been caught in the media frenzy that has landed in Eagle County this year. In addition to giving his expertise on camera for different programs, local attorney Jim Fahrenholtz, gets swarmed by local, state and national media after the hearings.
Dave Lugert, a former prosecutor in Eagle County who now has his own practice, has been hired by CBS to give legal commentary on the case.
“The case has sparked my interest to work on TV,” Lugert said. “I like the idea of explaining the legal system to people.”
But life on TV is not only about what you have to say. When Lugert met Politan before the hearing last week, they shared some make up tricks.
Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at