Ruckriegle expresses reluctance

Updated: August 3, 2004, 8:32 AM ET
Associated Press

EAGLE, Colo. -- Bowing to the state and U.S. Supreme Courts, the judge in the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case reluctantly decided Monday to release edited transcripts from a closed-door hearing on the accuser's sex life and other evidence.

District Judge Terry Ruckriegle said he concluded he must release the details despite concerns the move would "compromise the rights of some of the participants" in the high-profile trial.

Details of the transcripts were not immediately available from a court reporter or from a for-profit document Web site.

The documents were mistakenly e-mailed by a court reporter in June to seven news organizations, including ESPN and The Associated Press. The judge quickly threatened a contempt of court charge for any organization that published details from the June 21-22 hearing.

The organizations complied, but challenged the order as an unconstitutional prior restraint of a free press. The Colorado Supreme Court conceded the order amounted to prior restraint, but said it was allowable under the circumstances of the case.

The court, however, suggested Ruckriegle quickly decide whether the details were admissable as evidence. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer agreed, urging the judge to release redacted copies of the transcript if not the entire document.

"It is with great reluctance that this court releases these transcripts," Ruckriegle wrote. "The effect of this release is to present narrowly limited, one-side evidence and argument to the public prior to the selection of a jury and without reference to the totality of the evidence.

"This court has struggled for several weeks with the obvious and conflicting convergence of rights presented by this situation."

Bryant, 25, has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault. The Los Angeles Lakers star says he had consensual sex with a 19-year-old front desk worker at a Vail-area resort where he was staying 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.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press