Hearing to focus on accuser's privacy rights

Updated: January 21, 2004, 10:58 PM ET
Associated Press

DENVER -- A judge decided Wednesday to close a key part of this week's hearing in the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case, saying arguments over the accuser's medical privacy will bring up details too sensitive to be heard in open court.

The hearing, scheduled for Friday, centers on the defense team's claim that the 19-year-old woman gave up her privacy rights by discussing her medical history with others.

State District Judge Terry Ruckriegle said evidence and testimony expected to be presented Friday would be ``intensely personal, highly sensitive and potentially embarrassing to the victim.'' The judge said such details would be disseminated worldwide because of the intense media interest in the sexual assault case against the Los Angeles Lakers star.

The question of whether the information will even be used at trial has not been answered, Ruckriegle said. He has scheduled a Feb. 2-3 hearing in which attorneys are expected to argue over that question.

Chris Beall, a Denver attorney who represents media organizations including The Associated Press, said his clients had not yet determined whether to ask the state Supreme Court to review Wednesday's ruling.

Bryant, 25, faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation if convicted of felony sexual assault. He has said he had consensual sex with the employee of a mountain resort where he stayed last summer.

The medical history of Bryant's accuser has become a crucial issue in the case. The defense, hoping to undermine her credibility, has suggested she took anti-psychotic medication and tried to commit suicide in the months before her June 30 encounter with Bryant.

Among those expected to testify behind closed doors Friday are the woman's mother, a friend and a former boyfriend, and roommates from the University of Northern Colorado, Ruckriegle wrote.

Prosecutors and the attorney for the alleged victim had asked Ruckriegle to close any hearings on her medical records, a stance Bryant's attorneys did not oppose.

Tom Kelley, an attorney for media organizations that sought to keep the hearing open, argued that much of the evidence about the woman's medical history has already been revealed in court filings or arguments.

The judge, however, said rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court and Colorado Supreme Court have determined that hearings on such matters should be closed to the public to protect the alleged victim and the privacy of the doctor-patient relationship.

Other parts of Friday's hearing are expected to remain open.

The judge is expected to hear arguments on whether the records of a rape crisis center should remain private; an employee sat in during a police interview of the woman.

The judge is also expected to hear a report from prosecutors about who ordered or received T-shirts mocking Bryant as a "cheater" and arguments over the defense's role in evidence testing.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press