Parents of accuser present for apology

Updated: August 3, 2004, 1:46 AM ET
Associated Press

EAGLE, Colo. -- Looking directly at the parents of the woman accusing Kobe Bryant of rape, the judge in the NBA star's sexual assault case apologized Friday for mistakes that have put her name on the Internet and given the public an inadvertent look at some of the evidence.

Judge Ruckriegle's apology
Text of District Judge Terry Ruckriegle's apology Friday for court mistakes in which sealed information in the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case was released to the public. The text is from a draft transcript by the court reporter:

"I want to express my sincere apology to the people of Eagle County, the people of Colorado, and the people who have come here from far away for the mistake made by the courts this week.

Several years ago when this court began sponsoring classes called parenting with love and logic, a man named Jim Fay taught me, and thousands of other parents, that when children and people make mistakes, they should not be castigated and ridiculed. He called those mistakes SLOs, significant learning opportunities, where the people making the mistakes and those around them learned lessons in life and grew from them as part of their development.

Long after all of the people who have flocked to Eagle County from around the country, and some around the world, have returned to their own communities, all of us who work for this court and courts around this country will be here, in sometimes empty courtrooms, to make some of the same decisions based upon the laws and constitutions that we are sworn to uphold.

For all of those who come through these doors, victims and defendants alike, whose names are never known and never sought, I can only assure you that I have learned lessons from these mistakes, and that we will give our best human effort not to let it happen again.

Lastly, I want to commend the responsible media who have abided by not only the spirit of the law, but the intended directions of the court.

Again, I apologize."

District Judge Terry Ruckriegle said he is treating the gaffes as a learning experience.

"For all of those who come through these doors, victims and defendants alike, whose names are never known and never sought, I can only assure you I have learned lessons from these mistakes, and that we will give our best human effort not to let it happen again," he said.

Then he looked up at the parents of the 20-year-old accuser and said, "Again, I apologize." They nodded in response.

The comments came during one of two hearings scheduled before jury selection begins Aug. 27. The attorneys and Bryant later met behind closed doors to discuss evidentiary motions.

Bryant, 25, has pleaded not guilty to a felony sexual assault charge, saying he had consensual sex with the woman, an employee of the Vail-area resort where he stayed last summer. If convicted, the Los Angeles Lakers star faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation.

John Clune, an attorney for the woman, was not at the hearing but later said the judge's "self-serving generic apology was insulting to the victim and her parents."

Clune said Ruckriegle should have personally contacted Bryant's accuser and her family before giving a public apology in his courtroom.

The mistakes date back months. In September, the woman's name was included in a filing on a state courts Web site that was quickly removed. Last fall, the Glenwood Springs hospital where she and Bryant were examined accidentally turned over her medical records to attorneys in the case.

In June, a court reporter accidentally e-mailed transcripts of a closed hearing to ESPN, The Associated Press and five other news organizations, revealing details of defense arguments about the accuser's sexual activities and money received from a victims' compensation fund. This week, a sealed order by Ruckriegle was mistakenly posted on the Web site, divulging her name again and information about DNA evidence collected during Bryant's hospital exam.

At that point, Clune demanded an apology, saying his client and her family had lost confidence in the justice system.

State courts spokeswoman Karen Salaz said a letter of apology was being prepared for the family on behalf of the court staff. The judge is considering a request by Clune to halt use of the court Web site and e-mail to distribute information about the case.

Earlier this week, Ruckriegle released a partial, edited copy of the June 21-22 transcripts accidentally e-mailed to the media. In it, defense attorneys claimed the woman was pursuing the case in part because she has received nearly $20,000 from the compensation fund, most of which compensated her for mental health care.

Clune scoffed at the claim, saying that money was only a fraction of the amount spent by his client's family since the charge was filed. He called the suggestion of a financial incentive "obscene."

Under pressure from the Colorado and U.S. supreme courts, Ruckriegle said he expects to release edited versions of the entire June hearing transcripts next week.

Also Friday, the prosecution and defense said they had agreed on how to use DNA evidence obtained from Bryant during his hospital exam. Prosecutor Ingrid Bakke later said the only DNA evidence she plans to use was from the accuser's blood found on Bryant's T-shirt.

The DNA evidence collected from Bryant was thrown out this month as part of a larger defense request, but his attorneys now want the exam results admitted because they presumably bolster their contention the accuser had sex with someone after Bryant and before she went to the hospital. Her attorney has denied that claim.

Scheduled for discussion Friday were requests by Bryant's attorneys to keep his tape-recorded statements to investigators under seal until trial and to limit the prosecution's use of those statements, and arguments on a prosecution request to limit trial testimony by two DNA experts. No details of the closed-door session were released.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press