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The confusion of Cirque du Kob

Scott Willoughby

So I flaked on jury duty the other day. But to be fair, it wasn’t entirely my fault. I was out of town, on assignment even, in Hawaii.Oh, I’ve heard it all already: Some tough job, going to Hawaii. But hey, I never said it was hard work, just work. Kind of like Kobe’s.Kobe Bryant and the rest of the L.A. Lakers arrived in Hawaii for their NBA training camp right around the time I left. We never actually crossed paths, since my assignment had more to do with surfing and sailing than with basketball or any other type of court. Besides, the rest of the world seems to have that side of the spectrum pretty well covered.You’d have to be even further adrift than me to not know by now that Kobe was back in town this week doubling up as an accused rapist and the paparazzi’s main man. Free on $25,000 bond, he left the Lakers’ Hawaii training camp Wednesday, Oct. 8, to travel to our humble valley for a preliminary hearing on a sexual assault charge. While he was traveling, local workers were busy bracing for the media circus surrounding the three-time world champion and All-Star Game MVP, setting up rows of television platforms and making last-minute preparations to accommodate the throngs of onlookers anticipated for a court session that might have been as brief as his “No sir” Aug. 6 advisement or that could have lasted all afternoon. No one really knew what to expect.That’s mostly due to the gag order issued by Eagle County Court Judge Frederick Gannett that forbids anyone connected to the case from discussing it with the media, and an official “Decorum Order” severely restricting media access to the circus. Of course, that didn’t stop some 300 television, print and radio reporters from gathering days before the show to speculate on Kobe’s fate. Even Marcia Clark, former O.J. Simpson prosecutor turned talking head, made her way to Eagle for Kobe’s second appearance before a judge more accustomed to settling stolen ski capers than making cameos on “Celebrities Uncensored.”The muzzle on this high-profile case may have created as much confusion as it hoped to curtail, even among the various agencies involved in the legal logistics. No one not even designated spokespeople seemed to know what would actually happen in court on Thursday, Oct. 9, leaving the doors wide open for the self-appointed satellite “experts” on site to contaminate the rest of us with their conjecture. Not that any of it mattered much, but it does set an uncomfortable precedent.The media’s instant obsession with this case is one of its few elements lacking in mystery. More than a third of the seats in the courtroom were reserved for reporters Thursday, with an auxiliary courtroom set up with an audio broadcast of the proceedings for media overflow. But unlike Kobe’s first appearance in Eagle County Court, cameras were not allowed.Check that, while the Decorum Order very explicitly explains that “this restriction includes photographs, transmissions or recordings of persons inside the Courthouse even if taken or obtained from outside the Courthouse,” it goes on to state that “nothing in this Order prohibits the press from taking photographs or videotaping into the courthouse through the glass doors on the west side entryway, but no photography or videotaping that is intended to capture inside images shall be permitted through any other window or door of the courthouse.”It’s no wonder everyone is so damned confused.The confusion is likely to continue as long as the gag order is in effect, since I doubt anyone but Judge Gannett himself is confidently capable of making sense of the legalese it’s drafted in. But the order was enacted in the name of privacy for the alleged victim, as well as an attempt to keep the trial here in Eagle County, which most locals can appreciate, particularly the business community. Its members are probably the least confused of all.In keeping with the entrepreneurial spirit of the valley, town officials put together and prior to Thursday disseminated a packet of information about local businesses here to serve the circus. Restaurants and hotels are buzzing during this typically slow season, including at least one offering a “Premium Press Package” that featured a hospitality suite and assistance with parking your satellite truck. A restaurant in Vail offered a special on prime Kobe beef marketed as “Kobe Gets Grilled.”Television networks are renting the lot across the street from the courthouse and have chipped in to pay for tables, chairs and portable toilets set up in the de facto “press center” tent. How long it will be there is anybody’s guess.But much like the NBA at pre-season, that’s just about what the Cirque de Kobe amounts to at this point a guessing game. And as awful as I feel about that little jury duty mishap, I’m just glad no one’s looking at me for the answers.Scott Willoughy is a Minturn-based freelance writer who can be reached at snowrite@vail.net.


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