DENVER -- A no-nonsense federal judge who presided over the
Oklahoma City bombing trials now has another high-profile case in
his courtroom: the civil suit filed against NBA star Kobe Bryant by
the woman accusing him of sexual assault.
U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch is best known for handling
the trials of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols in the 1995
Oklahoma City case. But in 30 years on the bench, he also presided
over a protracted school busing case, the trials of anti-Semitic
militants convicted of assassinating a talk show host and the
sentencing of a forestry worker who admitted starting Colorado's
Matsch keeps tight control of his courtroom, never hesitating to
clamp down on attorneys. Given to wearing cowboy boots and hats, he
sometimes raises his voice to dress down an attorney for asking
witnesses repetitive questions or for coming to court unprepared.
The random-assignment system used in Denver federal court handed
the Bryant civil suit to Matsch.
"If there's any judge that's able to keep it from becoming a
circus, it's Judge Matsch, just like he was able to keep the
Oklahoma City bombing case from becoming a circus," said attorney
Dan Recht, who has had numerous cases before Matsch.
"He's a very smart judge that maintains complete control of his
courtroom, and that is well-respected generally by all sides to all
litigation," he said.
Attorneys for Bryant's 20-year-old accuser filed the civil case
in Denver federal court Tuesday after questioning whether the
criminal case would get a fair hearing in Eagle County District
The attorneys said gaffes in the criminal case allowed the
release of information favorable to Bryant and eroded the woman's
faith in the criminal justice system.
Prosecutors have asked for an indefinite delay in the criminal
trial, scheduled to start Aug. 27, and appealed a key ruling to the
state Supreme Court, prompting legal experts to speculate that the
case will be dropped. Prosecutors say they still plan to go to
Bryant, 25, has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault. He
has said he had consensual sex with the woman. If convicted, the
Los Angeles Lakers star faces four years to life in prison or 20
years to life on probation, and a fine up to $750,000.
Matsch, 74, took senior-judge status in summer 2003, allowing
him to reduce his caseload.
Since then, his cases have included a complicated dispute over
the Denver Broncos between owner Pat Bowlen and former owner Edgar
In March 2003, he presided over the sentencing of the woman who
pleaded guilty to starting a 2002 wildfire that burned 138,000
acres and 132 homes southwest of Denver. About 80 people, many of
whom lost property in the blaze, packed the courtroom.
Matsch was appointed to the bench by President Nixon in 1974 and
soon was called on to create a school-busing system for Denver in a
desegregation case. He lifted the system in 1995 after ruling that
it succeeded "to the extent practicable."
Matsch presided over the trial of several members of the Order
who were convicted of the 1984 assassination of Denver radio talk
show host Alan Berg.
In other prominent rulings, Matsch ordered a nativity scene
removed from the holiday display at Denver's City and County
Building and ruled the Ku Klux Klan had a right to march in Denver
on Martin Luther King Day despite the risk of violent
The Oklahoma City bombing trials -- which led to McVeigh's
execution and a life sentence for Nichols-- brought Matsch national