EAGLE, Colo. The judge in the Kobe Bryant case has rejected a request by the woman accusing the NBA star of rape to stop posting court documents online. The judge says the practice isn't foolproof but it makes the most sense to keep the public abreast of developments with scarce courthouse staff.
District Judge Terry Ruckriegle said he regretted mistakes that had resulted in the woman's name and other details being posted on a state court Web site. But he said he disagreed with attorneys for the woman, 20, who have suggested that switching to a paper document system would have minimal impact.
Document requests in the case have amounted to 15,674 per month between Sept. 1, 2003 and July 26, 2004 an average of 712 requests per work day, the judge said.
"For a small courthouse with a docket crowded with other matters that also require the clerks' attention, there is simply no way that the current personnel can handle 712 additional document requests per day," Ruckriegle said. "And, the number of document requests is just the beginning of the story," with the site also a one-stop spot for hearing dates, media request forms and other announcements.
Taking away electronic distribution would "result in having to hire and train 10 new employees at the Eagle courthouse, along with the attendant leasing of computers, office equipment, office space and additional copy machines," the judge said.
Bryant, 25, has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault. He has said he had consensual sex with an employee of the Vail-area resort where he was staying last summer.
If convicted, he faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation, and a fine up to $750,000. Jury selection is set to begin Aug. 27.
Lawyers for the woman had argued that even Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was treated more fairly than she was. The attorneys also accused the judge of trying to protect himself by imposing an unconstitutional gag order.
In a court filing released yesterday, John Clune and L. Lin Wood said their client was "devastated" by some of the NBA star's evidence that was mistakenly released by the court.
The lawyers said Ruckriegle's gag order expanded last week after they appeared on national television on Aug. 5 means that "only the rapist's version of events will be disseminated to the media."
"Even Timothy McVeigh had a right to speak. No less right belongs to a rape victim," the attorneys wrote.
The courts said McVeigh, executed in June 2001 for the Oklahoma City bombing, could speak with the media to counter negative publicity about him, Clune and Wood wrote in their filing.
To prevent future mistakes, lawyers on both sides had asked Ruckriegle to stop posting case filings but Ruckriegle rejected that motion.
In both instances, the release of material from closed-door, pretrial hearings is the core issue. In their scathing motion, Clune and Wood wrote said the expanded gag order let stand the "devastating, one-sided account" from closed hearings into whether the alleged victim's sexual history should be entered as evidence.
Clune and a prosecution spokeswoman declined comment.
Transcripts accidentally e-mailed to seven media outlets focused primarily on a defense expert's opinion that the woman had sex with someone after Bryant and before her hospital exam, and a defense claim that she is pursuing the case for monetary reasons.
The news media, including the Associated Press, challenged Ruckriegle's order barring publication of the transcripts. Under pressure from the U.S. Supreme Court, Ruckriegle released edited versions.
Clune and Wood argued that the court is trying to use the gag order to prevent "public comment and criticism regarding the frequent prejudicial errors by which this court has permitted the victim's name to be released and her character, credibility and reputation to be attacked," Clune and Wood wrote.
Former Denver prosecutor Craig Silverman, who has been following the case, described the salvo from the woman's attorneys as "scapegoating the court."
"The court has made mistakes, but it did not make up this `devastating' new information about the accuser having sex with Mr. X," Silverman said.
Silverman said although the expanded gag order, which covers more people, may have constitutional problems, the motion lambasting it "has done a masterful job" of deflecting attention from what was in the transcripts.
Ruckriegle apologized during a July 30 hearing for the inadvertent release of information. He has ruled, however, that the woman's sex life in the three days before her July 1, 2003, hospital exam can be used as evidence because it is relevant to help determine the cause of her injuries, the source of DNA evidence and her credibility.