Motions of proof can stay sealed

Updated: December 10, 2003, 9:03 PM ET
Associated Press

EAGLE, Colo. -- The judge in the Kobe Bryant case on Tuesday rejected a motion by the prosecution to seal any court filing related to evidence in the high-profile sexual assault case.

Instead, state District Judge Terry Ruckriegle said attorneys in the case can file motions with "limited factual allegations" about Bryant and his accuser that he might later rule inadmissable at trial.

He said filings to back up the allegations can be filed separately -- and those can be sealed.

The judge urged attorneys to make such filings "sparingly and wisely" and he chided the prosecution for citing "no legal authority" in its argument to seal evidentiary details. The judge even underlined the final two words.

"While it is admirable to attempt to prevent potential tainting of the jury pool, giving counsel free reign to file any such motions under seal is potentially problematic," Ruckriegle wrote, referring to the media coverage of the case.

The judge said he agreed the coverage might threaten the ability to hold a fair trial, but backed the solution offered by media attorneys and Bryant's defense team of filing sealed motions of proof.

A prosecution spokeswoman, Krista Flannigan, declined comment. Defense attorney Pamela Mackey did not return a call seeking comment.

Bryant, 25, is charged with attacking a 19-year-old employee at a Colorado resort last June. He has said the two had consensual sex.

The Los Angeles Lakers star faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation if convicted of felony sexual assault. He must appear at hearings in Eagle scheduled for Dec. 19 and Jan. 23.

The ruling came one day after defense attorneys suggested in a court filing that racism may be behind Bryant's prosecution.

Defense attorney Pamela Mackey asked the judge to help determine whether sheriff's deputies and prosecution employees ordered T-shirts depicting the NBA star being hanged.

"The information is sought because it is relevant to show the bias of the investigating agencies," Mackey wrote, echoing an accusation she raised in the early days of the case. "Bias is always relevant."

Officials with the Eagle County sheriff's office have said a company called gave the office two black T-shirts with a Bryant theme on Oct. 9, the first day of Bryant's preliminary hearing.

One has Bryant's No. 8 on the back with the words, "I'm not a rapist; I'm just a cheater." The other lists the costs of Bryant's trip to Eagle County and ends with, "Not bringing your wife to Colorado with you -- priceless."

Mackey said the shirts have been characterized as racist and "invocative of Klan lynching." Citing unspecified e-mails between the sheriff's office and the shirt vendor, she accused the office of ordering 78 of the shirts for employees and for the district attorney's office.

Sheriff Joe Hoy said Monday that one of his employees corresponded with the company using the office e-mail system, but he would not elaborate. He said the person, who still works for him, was disciplined and is not involved with the Bryant case.

"There's not any bias in any way, shape or form," Hoy said.

Flannigan said Monday no one in the district attorney's office had ordered the shirts, but she would not comment on whether the DA knew who ordered shirts in the sheriff's office.

"We'll deal with it in court," Flannigan said.

In a separate motion, the defense made a formal request for prosecutors to turn over clothing collected from Bryant and his accuser for independent DNA testing by one of its experts.

Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press