Hearing scheduled for Feb. 2

Updated: January 25, 2005, 7:52 PM ET
Associated Press

DENVER -- A nasty behind-the-scenes fight is going on in the civil case against Kobe Bryant, with attorneys sparring over rules for witness interviews and whether the NBA star will be able to blame the emotional distress of his accuser on a host of others.

The paper war comes ahead of a hearing in U.S. District Court in Denver on Feb. 2. It was unclear Tuesday whether Bryant or the woman accusing him of rape will be there. Neither is required to appear.

The woman's attorneys are fighting Bryant's assertions that media organizations, the state court system and people who threatened the woman share responsibility for the distress she says she has suffered since their encounter in a Vail-area resort hotel 19 months ago.

Attorneys for the Los Angeles Lakers star, meanwhile, are fighting attempts by the woman's attorneys to ask him questions about his sex life, calling it a "highly invasive fishing expedition." Their objections delayed a Bryant deposition initially planned for last month.

The woman's attorney, John Clune, said his client is eager for the trial to begin.

"One of the upsides to the criminal case, had it gone forward, is there was a tremendous amount of misinformation in the press about her specifically and about Bryant as well," Clune said. "I think if the public actually had the opportunity to hear what the testimony was and not what some leak or unidentified source said to generate a tabloid-style headline, people would have had a much better sense of this case and of her."

Bryant's attorney, Pamela Mackey, did not return a call. Attorneys for both sides have said in court filings they have discussed the possibility of settlement negotiations.

"It certainly would be a downside to having a settlement, not having the ability to tell what happened [testifying at trial]," Clune said. "At the same time, I think this has been such a tremendous ordeal that the concept of getting on with your life can be attractive."

The woman sued Bryant in federal court Aug. 10, seeking unspecified damages for pain, ridicule and scorn she said she has suffered because of the alleged rape and publicity surrounding the criminal case. Three weeks later, she asked prosecutors in Eagle County to drop the felony assault charge against Bryant, saying she no longer wanted to participate in the case.

Bryant has insisted he had consensual sex with the woman.

Steve Cron, a Los Angeles attorney who has defended celebrities, said it's impossible to tell what, if any, settlement talks are under way in the Bryant case. But he was skeptical about Clune's assertion that the woman is looking forward to the trial.

"If she was so eager to have this public airing, then why didn't she agree to go ahead with the criminal prosecution?" he asked. "Why not have it aired out there where he's potentially going to go to jail and she's going to be treated with kid gloves?"

Cron said lawyers in civil cases have to give the impression that their clients are eager to go to trial.

"If the other lawyer thinks the opposing client is afraid to go to trial or afraid of the publicity, notoriety, disclosure or anything else, it's like a wolf smelling a wounded lamb," he said.

Some witnesses have already been questioned under oath by attorneys in the civil case, Clune said. He declined to identify them, but said the pace of depositions should increase after U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch issues orders clarifying what questions Clune and Wood can ask about Bryant's sex life. Attorneys have asked Matsch to allow them to seal all or portions of witness testimony.

At least one question has been resolved. The woman's other attorney, L. Lin Wood of Atlanta, has dropped the idea of filing a parallel lawsuit in California state court, where there is no limit on damages. In Colorado, liability limits make it difficult for a plaintiff to collect more than $733,000.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press