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Hurlbert will not have prominent role in trial

DENVER -- The prosecutor who has led the sexual assault case
against Kobe Bryant since last summer said Wednesday he will not
take a prominent role in the NBA star's trial, instead leaving
day-to-day responsibilities to his chief deputy and two others.

District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said he would provide general
oversight in the trial, scheduled to begin Aug. 27. His chief
deputy, Gregg Crittenden, and prosecutors Dana Easter and Ingrid
Bakke will handle most of the trial duties, a spokeswoman said.

Hurlbert said in a statement that he would be neglecting other
duties in his four-county district if he is deeply involved in the
trial.

"I have a duty to every citizen in the 5th Judicial District --
Clear Creek, Eagle, Lake and Summit counties," Hurlbert said.

Hurlbert, who was appointed district attorney last year to fill
a vacancy, also is campaigning for a full term in the November.

Prosecution spokeswoman Krista Flannigan said the state attorney
general's office would continue to provide assistance as needed.

She said about 12,000 criminal cases are filed each year in the
district.

Hurlbert's decision probably doesn't indicate he has doubts
about the case, former prosecutor Karen Steinhauser said.

"I don't feel at all that this has anything to do with his
confidence in the case," she said. "He may just feel for whatever
reason it's in the best interest of the case for him to take a back
seat."

It is not unusual for a district attorney to take a supervisory
role in a case, but such decisions typically come earlier,
Steinhauser said.

Former prosecutor Norm Early praised the decision, saying
Hurlbert essentially was working two full-time jobs: running the
district's criminal prosecution efforts and prosecuting the Bryant
case.

He said when he was chief deputy district attorney in Denver, he
tried 15 to 20 cases a year. As district attorney, Early said he
personally tried four cases in 10 years.

"The victim in the Bryant case is not the only constituent in
the 5th Judicial District, and other constituents are being
victimized on a daily basis, and they feel their cases are as
important to them as the Bryant case is to that victim," Early
said.

Denver defense attorney Scott Robinson, who has followed the
case, agreed it was a good decision.

"Sometimes delegation is the better part of valor," Robinson
said. "Certainly there's no dearth of trial experience in the
three remaining members of the team."

Bakke and Easter both have extensive experience in prosecuting
sexual assault cases and have been involved in the Bryant case
since last fall.

Bakke, who joined the prosecution team in July, heads the
Boulder County district attorney's sex assault and domestic
violence unit. Easter, who joined in November, specializes in
crimes against children and sex crimes for the Jefferson County
district attorney's office. They have worked together on previous
cases.

Dave Lugert, a longtime federal prosecutor who worked in the
district attorney's office before becoming a defense attorney, was
more critical of Hurlbert, saying the decision could be viewed as
political.

"The entire district attorney's office rises or falls with the
tide of the verdict in this case," Lugert said. "The verdict will
reflect not just the power and persuasiveness of the evidence of
guilt but also the degree of preparation by the prosecutors in the
trial."

Hurlbert said he expected the trial to be over by the end of
September.

Bryant is scheduled to return to Eagle for a three-day hearing
beginning July 19. He has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual
assault and has said he had consensual sex with a teenage employee
of the Vail-area resort where he stayed last summer.

If convicted, Bryant faces four years to life in prison or 20
years to life on probation, and a fine up to $750,000.