Attorneys slam judge over 'one-sided' gag order

Updated: August 10, 2004, 9:28 AM ET
Associated Press

DENVER -- Attorneys for the woman accusing Kobe Bryant of rape have launched a startling attack on the trial judge, accusing him of trying to protect himself by imposing an unconstitutional gag order only after their client was "devastated" by some of the NBA star's evidence.

John Clune and L. Lin Wood said the gag order threatens their client's reputation and her right to a fair trial of her allegations.

The filing was released Monday -- the same day state District Judge Terry Ruckriegle rejected a motion by the prosecution and the woman's attorneys asking that documents in the case not be posted on the court's Web site.

In both instances, the release of material from closed-door, pretrial hearings is the core issue. Clune's and Wood's scathing motion says the gag order expanded last week by Ruckriegle lets stand the "devastating, one-sided account" from closed hearings into whether the alleged victim's sexual history should be entered as evidence.

Clune and a prosecution spokeswoman declined comment.

The transcripts, accidentally e-mailed to seven media outlets, focused primarily on a defense expert's opinion that the woman had sex with someone after Bryant and before her hospital exam and a defense claim that she is pursuing the case for monetary reasons.

The 25-year-old Los Angeles Lakers superstar has said the 20-year-old woman consented to sex with him last summer at the Vail-area resort where she worked.

The media, including The Associated Press, challenged Ruckriegle's order barring publication of the transcripts. Under pressure from the U.S. Supreme Court, Ruckriegle released edited versions of the transcripts.

Clune and Wood argued that the gag order, revised last week after they appeared on national television on Aug. 5, means "only the rapist's version of events will be disseminated to the media."

"Even Timothy McVeigh had a right to speak. No less right belongs to a rape victim," the attorneys wrote.

The courts said McVeigh, executed in June 2001 for the Oklahoma City bombing, could speak with the media to counter negative publicity about him, Clune and Wood wrote.

The attorneys also argued the gag order is too broad, unconstitutional and attempts to protect the court from criticism for its mistakes, including release of the alleged victim's name.

The court is trying to prevent "public comment and criticism regarding the frequent prejudicial errors by which this court has permitted the victim's name to be released and her character, credibility and reputation to be attacked," Clune and Wood wrote.

Former Denver prosecutor Craig Silverman, who has been following the case, described the salvo from the woman's attorneys as "scapegoating the court."

"The court has made mistakes, but it did not make up this 'devastating' new information about the accuser having sex with Mr. X," Silverman said.

Silverman said although the expanded gag order, which covers more people, may have constitutional problems, the motion lambasting it "has done a masterful job" of deflecting attention from what was in the transcripts.

Ruckriegle apologized during a July 30 hearing for the inadvertent release of information. He has ruled, however, that the woman's sex life in the three days before her July 1, 2003, hospital exam can be used as evidence because it is relevant to help determine the cause of her injuries, the source of DNA evidence and her credibility.

The state's rape shield law prohibits discussion of the alleged victim's sex life unless it is deemed relevant.

Prosecutors and the woman's attorneys sought to halt posting court documents on the court Web site. Ruckriegle refused, saying the court has received 15,674 requests for documents per month between Sept. 1, 2003, and July 26, 2004 -- an average of 712 per work day.

"For a small courthouse with a docket crowded with other matters that also require the clerks' attention, there is simply no way that the current personnel can handle 712 additional document requests per day," the judge said.

Eliminating electronic distribution would "result in having to hire and train 10 new employees at the Eagle courthouse, along with the attendant leasing of computers, office equipment, office space and additional copy machines," the judge said.

Bryant is charged with felony sexual assault. If convicted, he faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation, and a fine up to $750,000. Jury selection begins Aug. 27.

Last week Clune said his client was considering whether to file a civil suit against Bryant, rather than continue with a criminal case.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press