<
>

Hearing scheduled for Feb. 2

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.