Ruckriegle drew below-average marks

Updated: August 3, 2004, 11:41 PM ET
Associated Press

DENVER -- The judge handling Kobe Bryant's sexual assault case got low marks for his demeanor from a review panel that urged him to work on the problem, according to judicial records released Tuesday.

The state Commission on Judicial Performance recommended that voters retain District Judge Terry Ruckriegle in November, but noted he scored slightly below his peer group overall and below the overall average for demeanor.

The commission said it met with the judge and he "acknowledged these concerns and presented specific actions he planned to take to improve his ratings."

"The commission is satisfied that these are positive steps and that Judge Ruckriegle is committed to make improvements in his overall demeanor rating as well as all other categories," the commission said.

Commission Director Jane Howell said the panel's deliberations are secret. There are 22 commissions, one for each district in the state, with four attorneys and six non-attorneys on each panel. The Ruckriegle panel voted 9-0 to recommend retention, with one member abstaining.

Among those on the panel is Bryant's prosecutor, Mark Hurlbert, and the prosecution spokeswoman, Krista Flannigan.

Hurlburt did not return phone calls seeking comment. Flannigan said she could not discuss the panel's deliberations, but said there are checks and balances to make sure recommendations are fair. She said if people who knew Ruckriegle and worked with him were excluded, the recommendations would be meaningless.

"They can't be arbitrary just because they're mad at someone and vote not to retain them," Flannigan said.

Ruckriegle and Bryant's attorneys did not return phone calls seeking comment. The trial for the Los Angeles Lakers star begins Aug. 27; he has pleaded innocent to felony sexual assault for allegedly attacking a worker at a Vail-area resort last summer.

Scott Robinson, a Denver defense attorney who has attended the Bryant hearings, said Ruckriegle has been a tough judge, angering lawyers who sit on the review committees. He said Ruckriegle has done a good job keeping attorneys in line in the Bryant case.

"The truth of the matter is that Judge Ruckriegle does not suffer fools lightly. It's not unusual for lawyers who make inane arguments or show up for court late to get reamed," he said.

Ruckriegle was a prosecutor for nine years before he was appointed to the bench in 1984. He was one of three finalists for a seat on the Colorado Supreme Court in 2000.

Colleagues have described him as a workaholic who enjoys watching his daughters play soccer and going on hunting trips. They also said he will not tolerate the public bickering that went on between attorneys before he took over the Bryant case last year.

Another judge was in line for the Bryant case, but Ruckriegle appointed himself to the case.

Since 1988, 743 Colorado judges have been reviewed, with just 14 recommendations not to retain. Of those, five judges were thrown out by voters.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press