Ruckriegle criticized for public apology

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

EAGLE, Colo. -- A courtroom apology from the judge in the Kobe Bryant rape case for mistakes that included revealing the accuser's name was described by the woman's lawyer as "self-serving" and "insulting."

At a hearing Friday, District Judge Terry Ruckriegle told the woman's parents that he is treating the gaffes -- among them putting her name on the Internet twice -- as a learning experience.

The accuser's lawyer, John Clune, wasn't 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 his client and her family before apologizing publicly.

The judge's 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.

The mistakes began in September, when the woman's name was included in a filing on a state court's 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 unintentionally e-mailed transcripts of a closed hearing to The Associated Press and six 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.

In his remarks, the judge said he would try to do everything he could to keep more mistakes from being made.

"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.

"Again, I apologize," the judge said, looking at the parents of the 20-year-old accuser. They nodded in response.

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 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 alleged victim'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