Real work begins in Bryant case
December 17, 2003
Court is not about fairness or justice, it’s about winning.
Court is combat.
The real lawyering, the real battles in which the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case begins to be won and lost, begin at Friday’s 9 a.m. motions hearing in an Eagle County courtroom.
Attorneys for both sides will begin trying to hammer the legal system into a shape most beneficial to either getting Bryant convicted or exonerated of the accusations arising from his encounter in his room June 30 with the 19-year-old front desk employee of the Lodge and Spa at Cordillera. He says their sex was consensual.
“The only thing that matters is what’s written on that little piece of paper the jury foreman is carrying when they come back from deliberations,” said local defense attorney David Lugert. “Everything they’ve done, and everything they’ll do, is focused on that moment, to give each side the best chance of getting the verdict they’re working toward.”
Ironically, while Bryant is in District Court Friday, his Los Angeles Lakers teammates will be in a different sort of court. The Lakers play the Nuggets in Denver’s Pepsi Center at 7:30 p.m. Friday. Bryant is not expected to play.
Recommended Stories For You
Home court advantage
The path to victory in court is to frame everything in a light most favorable to your side, said local attorney Rohn Robbins.
Toward that end, Robbins said, defense attorneys will try to include as much information about the alleged victim as possible. Prosecutors, on the other hand, will try to keep out information that damages the alleged victim’s credibility and stick to the bare facts of the case, which District Attorney Mark Hurlbert has asserted are strong enough to convict Bryant.
Everything that happens Friday and the next motions hearing Jan. 23 lays the groundwork for everything that follows until the verdict comes in.
“This is the real lawyering,” said Robbins. “We can all strut and pose for the cameras and make statements of the press. But the real lawyering is employing some gray matter in relation to the law.”
Robbins explained that the hearings will largely establish the parameters for what evidence will be allowed at trial, and how it can be presented.
Things like preliminary hearings and trials are at least as much flash as substance. Oral arguments in hearings and trials come after the judge has had time to review what they’ll say anyway.
“I don’t know how much the court is swayed by oral arguments,” said Robbins. “The court has read the motions and researched the case. The court likely comes into the proceedings on Friday with a predisposition one way or another.”
Playing to win
Bryant’s defense attorney Pamela Mackey has been showering subpoenas like snowflakes on Eagle County, the alleged victim’s home community, and Greeley, where she attended college last year.
Among the half-dozen or so people being called to testify Friday is the alleged victim’s mother. Robbins said Colorado has no parent-child immunity statute that would mirror husband-wife, physician-patient and attorney-client privilege.
“I don’t relish bloodying someone in a courtroom, but I will do it on behalf of my client,” said Robbins. “Any competent attorney would do the same.”
Robbins said requiring the alleged victim’s mother might seem unpleasant, but is not inappropriate.
“Mackey is saying there is a question of the alleged victim’s mental and emotional stability and, by extension, credibility in this case,” said Robbins. “The question Mackey is asking the court to decide is whether the alleged victim has violated that privilege by discussing it outside the bounds of those privileged relationships.
“Has the alleged victim opened that door? Has she made it an issue, has she opened the door?” said Robbins. “If she has, it’s unquestionable that they will walk though that door. If not, it’s a much tougher issue for the defense to raise.”
The government has the power to take someone’s freedom away for committing a crime. In this case, if Bryant is convicted the government could send him to prison for up to the rest of his life.
“We can all beat up (co-defense counsel Harold) Haddon and Mackey, and some do. But their moral and professional responsibility is to mount as vigorous a defense of their client as they can,” said Robbins. “He faces a potential life sentence.”
To keep that from happening, or to make that happen, attorneys will pull out all the stops.
“In law, there’s the throw-it-against-the wall-and-see-what-sticks theory,” said Robbins. “That’s part of the reasoning behind the flurry of motions and notices.”
What’s the point?
The focal point of this Friday’s hearing is will be the alleged victim’s medical records: Are they in or out as evidence for the trial.
Mackey says those medical records are vital because they establish a pattern of “dangerous attention-seeking behavior.” Mackey says the two drug overdoses by Bryant’s accuser – one Feb. 23 and another May 30 – are part of a pattern of behavior in which she either attempts suicide or thinks about it, then calls her former boyfriend.
Mackey says the events of June 30, the night the 19-year-old Eagle woman says Bryant raped her, mirror those behavior patterns.
Afterward, Bryant’s accuser called her former boyfriend from her cell phone while driving home. At about the same time, Bryant called his wife back in Newport Beach, Calif., from his room.
“The purported suicide attempts are extreme attention-seeking behavior that illustrate the accuser’s ulterior motives, scheme and plan to engage in dramatic acts in order to draw attention to herself – even when these acts are harmful to herself and others,” Mackey wrote in a motion filed Monday.
District Attorney Hurlbert returned fire by saying Bryant originally held the alleged victim by her throat with two hands and tightened his grip on her throat when she told him “no.”
About the judge
Judge Ruckriegle, Lugert and Robbins say, is more than up to the challenges such a high-profile case can create.
As a former state and federal prosecutor, Lugert was in the courtroom and had a front row seat for the Oklahoma City bombing trials. Now a defense attorney in Eagle County, Lugert says Ruckriegle reminds him of federal Judge Richard Mache, who heard the case.
Lugert said Mache managed that case with “an iron fist inside a velvet glove. Sometimes that fist came out and the attorneys obeyed.”
He said Ruckriegle will likely manage this case with the same stern hand.
“Judge Ruckriegle must exert control over the attorneys and the proceedings, and that’s well within his character,” said Lugert. “I see attorneys for both sides trying to stretch the legal system to the limit. This is a judge determined to exercise judicial control over it.”
On Friday’s docket
While the case was working its way through Eagle County Court, on its way to District Court where the trial will be held, Eagle County Court Judge Fred Gannett made sure everything the District Court would have to deal with during the trial would be decided by the District Court.
Among the issues to be dealt with Friday:
– The alleged victim’s medical records from Valley View Medical Center in Glenwood Springs.
– Resource Center’s notes, which presumably deal with statements the alleged victim made to a rape crisis counselor.
– Discovery issues: Are there any? Are attorneys for both sides turning everything over or not?
– Scientific testing: Prosecutors won’t automatically invite defense experts to the procedure.
– Prosecutors must notify the defense for tests that will destroy the material being tested, and the defense’s right to have their expert present.
– Other scientific testing: Any issues can be discussed.
– Motions filed late, like those filed Monday, the deadline to file anything attorneys want considered during Friday’s hearing.
– Everything else is to be heard Jan. 23, the next scheduled motions hearing.