Judge in Bryant case somewhat of a maverick
EAGLE, Colo. -- The woman stood uneasily at a courtroom podium, facing up to 10 years in jail for a car accident that left two people dead.
Eagle County Judge Frederick Gannett sentenced her to one year of probation, warned her to be careful driving and offered his condolences.
"There's nothing I can say to you that will make that death less powerful to you and to all the people affected by it," he said, speaking slowly so a Spanish interpreter could keep pace. "It does not appear that putting you in jail for what appears to be a moment of inattention would serve the public."
It was a show of compassion lawyers say is typical of Gannett, who will be under heavy scrutiny as he handles the Oct. 9 preliminary hearing in the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case.
"He will take his duty seriously and be fair to both sides," former District Attorney Mike Goodbee said.
Gannett (pronounced GANN-it) wears sports sandals and golf vests beneath his black robe, and is a bit of a maverick. He has chatted with reporters outside the courthouse, eavesdropped on logistics meetings and even helped move furniture in his 68-seat courtroom to prepare for hearings.
"Of all the cases that he's ever handled, and I've handled numerous cases in front of him, I never walked away and said, `Gee, he's been unfair," Edwards attorney Jim Fahrenholtz said. "If you're wrong he tells you and if you're right he tells you. He's a real straight player and has a real fair sense of justice."
Pictures of Gannett, with his tousled mane of dark hair, salt-and-pepper beard and reading glasses, have been splashed across televisions and newspapers around the world. He seems bemused by the attention the case has received.
"This is a very fast event for so much attention," Gannett said near the end of Bryant's first appearance Wednesday, a seven-minute hearing that drew hundreds of reporters, photographers and citizens.
After the hearing, he told reporters outside that the character the case is developing was "is one of an extraordinary flurry of paper."
Bryant, 24, was charged after a 19-year-old woman accused him of raping her June 30 at a resort lodge in nearby Edwards where she worked. He has said the sex was consensual.
Gannett will handle the case through the preliminary hearing. If it proceeds to state district court for trial, a new judge will be appointed.
Gannett, 49, declined to be interviewed for this story. He said he believed more attention should be paid to the effect the Bryant case was having on the town and county.
Born in 1953, Gannett earned his law degree at Oregon's Willamette University in the mid-1980s. He is married but has no children.
An avid reader and golfer who travels overseas frequently, Gannett helped build his log home in Basalt, and often showed up in court with black-and-blue fingernails during construction, Fahrenholtz recalled.
For a time, Gannett played first base on a lawyers' softball team that each year played a grudge match against police officers.
Gannett was a Pitkin County sheriff's deputy before being appointed an Eagle County judge in 1987. He served until 1993, and then went into private practice. In 2002, he was reappointed to the Eagle County bench. He also was a municipal judge in Basalt and Vail.
"I think primarily the reason Fred left the bench the first time was because he felt he was becoming hardened to the realities of the human element that was in front of him, and didn't want to do his job that way," Goodbee said.
County judges hear civil cases up to $15,000, and traffic, restraining order, small claims and misdemeanor cases. They also handle felony cases through the preliminary hearing stage.
Since the charge was filed against Bryant on July 18, Gannett has handled requests from both sides and a team of lawyers representing media organizations that want him to unseal investigative records. He also has made efforts to ensure the public can hear what goes on in the courtroom by granting live access to cameras and setting aside seats for reporters.
He was criticized by some First Amendment experts when he threatened to evict reporters from the courtroom if their organizations violated an order prohibiting publication of the accuser's name or image.
And he refused to excuse the NBA star from the initial hearing, saying he thought Bryant's appearance was vital.
"It's not a show, it's not for this event, or for this audience. That's really how Fred is," Goodbee said.
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index