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Serving justice while prosecuting Kobe

Veronica Whitney
Vail Daily File Photo District Attorney Mark Hurlbert, center, announces Kobe Bryant has been charged with class-3 felony sexual assault charges during a press conference at the Eagle County Justice Center last July.
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Since he started prosecuting the Kobe Bryant rape case, District Attorney Mark Hurlbert has received several death threats and has been asked out on a few dates.

“I’ve got people from out of state writing me letters asking me for a date,” said the 35-year-old prosecutor who lives in Breckenridge with his wife, Cathy, and his two children. “I’m flattered, but I’m very committed to my marriage.”

On one hot summer day, Hurlbert, who is prosecuting the rape case of NBA star Bryant, went from prosecuting anonymous local cases in the Fifth Judicial District to being on the spotlight of one of the most talked-about criminal cases in the country.

Although he’s been contacted to write books, and his character might one day be part of a movie on the case, Hurlbert (who has the good looks – blond hair, deep blue eyes, 6 foot 3 and 205 lbs. – to play himself in a Hollywood movie) takes his sudden notoriety as part of his job.

“This is one of the few big cases we’ve seen in the country, but every single case is important,” Hurlbert said. Bryant is charged with raping a 19-year-old Eagle woman last summer at the Lodge and Spa at Cordillera. “I do think we are seeing more serious cases up here in the district. Right now, we have five homicides, serious sex assaults cases, and a class-one felony kidnapping all pending. We don’t get celebrity cases, though.”

Although the Bryant case is a challenge, Hurlbert, who has 10 years of experience as a prosecutor, said he is up for it.

“It’s not just my experience as a prosecutor, but the whole Kobe team, which has more than 40 years experience put together,” said Hurlbert of Eagle County Chief Deputy District Attorney Greg Crittenden and the two prosecutors from Jefferson and Boulder counties who are helping him with the case.

The Bryant case and running for office

When asked if he is afraid of losing the Kobe Bryant case, Hurlbert declined to answer, citing the decorum order in the case instituted by District Judge Terry Ruckriegle.

The outcome of the case, which has no trial date set, could be a double-edged sword for Hurlbert, who recently announced he is running for the Fifth Judicial District Attorney seat this year. Hurlbert, a Republican, is so far unopposed in the race.

“This is the first time I’m a candidate,” he said. “This is a political way to get what is essentially a nonpolitical job.

“I hope I get elected by my whole record as a district attorney,” said Hurlbert, who before becoming the Fifth Judicial District Attorney was a prosecutor in Summit and Clear Creek counties. “Although it has been a very busy year since I took over in December 2002, we have moved forward in a lot of things: We have stabilized the office, we got a better level of prosecution and we have improved technology.”

Still, some people in Eagle County have questioned if the Kobe Bryant case is taking too much time from the District Attorney’s Office and is hurting other cases.

“I believe we have the resources available at this time to do everything,” said Hurlbert, who oversees 10 prosecutors throughout the judicial district. ” With the addition of the two district attorneys, it’s almost like another prosecution going on. The other deputy district attorneys in Eagle County, except Greg Crittenden, don’t work on this case.”

Asked whether state law protects people who make a charge of rape more than those charged with rape, Hurlbert said he didn’t believe that’s true.

“Every criminal defendant has protection no matter what the charges are,” he said. “They’ve had these protections for 200 years.”

Although he said he is pleased with Colorado law, Hurlbert said one thing has bugged him for years.

“And that is that third-degree burglary -breaking into a vending machine- is a felony offense that can carry one to three years in prison. You can punch your wife, and it’s a misdemeanor. There’s a discrepancy there.”

What lies ahead

Hurlbert, a Denver Broncos and Baltimore Orioles fan, grew up in Dillon and graduated from Summit High School. He then graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and got his law degree from the University of Colorado School of Law.

“I decided to become a prosecutor when I was in law school. For me, this is less of a job and more of a call,” he said. “I truly like seeing that justice is being served.”

No matter the outcome of the Kobe Bryant case, Hurlbert’s financial life could change if he chooses to write a book. But the prosecutor, who earns $80,000 a year, said writing a book is not even a thought that has crossed his mind.

“I’ve got people contact me about writing a book, but I’m not thinking about it,” he said. ” Right now, I’m concentrating on prosecuting the case.

“I don’t do this job for the money, but for the passion,” he added.

Although he hasn’t taken time to think about a book, Hurlbert has had to deal with several death threats since the case started in July.

“Certainly, when the threats started, I was fearful for my family,” he said. “I don’t want to go to specifics on the things I’ve done for security purposes for obvious reasons. But I’ve done certain things to make me and my family more secure.”

In spite of the dozens of news organizations and hundreds of reporters covering the case, Hurlbert said the media has been respectful of his privacy. To deal with the Kobe Bryant case, Hurlbert hired spokeswoman Krista Flannigan last summer. In the meantime, he hasn’t given any interviews until this one.

“This case isn’t about me – it’s about prosecuting a sexual assault case,” he said. “Prosecuting this case has been a challenge in terms of the budget, but the county commissioners have very graciously given us an extended budget so we can really prosecute this case.”

Although he said he doesn’t feel overwhelmed dealing with the regular load of work and the Bryant case, at times it feels there’s a lot to do, said Hurlbert, who spends three days a week in Eagle, two in Summit County and one day a month at Lake and Clear Creek counties.

“I’m holding it up pretty well,” said Hurlbert who in his free time runs and climbs mountains to decompress. The fit prosecutor, who was on the alpine ski team in high school and the cross-country ski team in college, has climbed Colorado’s fourteeners – all 54 of them.

“Climbing mountains is about having a plan and sticking to it,” Hurlbert said. “You need to have tenacity so even when things get tough, you’re able to make it.”

Asked whether he’ll be bored once the Kobe Bryant case is over, Hurlbert laughs and shrinks his shoulders.

“This job is never boring,” he said. “But I don’t know …”

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454 or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.

Pullquote

“This is one of the few big cases we’ve seen in the country. But every single case is important.”

District Attorney Mark Hurlbert

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