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Legal analyst sees 'an end to ... a sad situation'

3/1/2005 - Kobe Bryant

DENVER -- Is a settlement the best way for Kobe Bryant to
get past the rape allegation that has dogged him for nearly three
years?

The NBA star and his 20-year-old accuser have reached an
agreement in principle, ABC News reported Tuesday, with a
settlement possible as early as this week. Attorneys for Bryant did
not return calls and the woman's attorneys, John Clune and L. Lin
Wood, both declined comment.

The woman's attorneys scheduled a seven-hour questioning session
with Bryant on Friday but it was scratched, prompting speculation a
settlement was close. Experts say they believe the two parties are
eager to avoid a trial that would bring out intimate, embarrassing
details on both sides.

"Some people will view a settlement as at least a partial
admission" of guilt, said Larry Pozner, a Denver attorney who
handles both civil and criminal cases. "But the more realistic
view settlement as what it is: You buy something and you sell
something.

"What you buy is an end to litigation, an end to courtrooms, an
end to meetings with lawyers, and what you give back is money, and
what Kobe Bryant has a lot of is money."

Bryant's accuser filed her lawsuit in Denver federal court last August, three
weeks before the criminal case against the Los Angeles Lakers star
collapsed when the woman decided she could not participate in the trial.

Allegations in the lawsuit echoed those of the criminal case.
The woman said Bryant flirted with her during a tour of the
Vail-area resort where she worked in June 2003. After the two ended
up in his room, they began to kiss and Bryant became more
aggressive, finally holding her by the throat while he raped her
from behind, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for mental injuries,
humiliation and public scorn the woman said she suffered since the
encounter. Bryant, a married father of one, issued an apology to
the woman but maintained the sex was consensual.

Bryant, 27, has to bring an end to the civil case in some way if
he hopes to regain a semblance of the rising-star image that
brought him lucrative product endorsements before he was charged
with felony sexual assault, said David Carter, a sports marketing
consultant with the Los Angeles-based Sports Business Group.

"There's going to be some real short-term pain attached, but
absent this, he'll never be able to move on to any kind of
marketing career," Carter said. "Without this closure, without
putting it behind him, he's left twisting in the marketing wind."

Bryant's agent, Rob Pelinka, did not return a call Tuesday.

Besides a seven-year, $136 million contract Bryant signed with
the Lakers last year, he has a five-year, $45 million deal with
Nike signed days before the allegations surfaced, though he has not
appeared in the shoe maker's commercials since then. His contract
with Coca-Cola, the maker of Sprite, expires this year.

McDonald's and Nutella decided not to renew their deals with
Bryant after his arrest. Bob Williams of Burns Sports and
Celebrities Inc., a sports marketing agency, has estimated Bryant
lost some $4 million to $6 million in endorsement contracts.

Still, Forbes.com in June ranked Bryant as the 10th highest-paid
celebrity in 2004, earning $26.1 million from June 2003 to June
2004 in salaries, bonuses, prize money, appearance fees and
endorsements.

Denver attorney Bill Keating, who has worked in civil cases for
more than 30 years, said a settlement always seemed the only
logical end for the high-profile case.

"I think the defendant certainly recognizes, and probably most
of the people who are familiar with the case -- the reading public --
recognize this is a case likely to be very time-consuming, very
expensive and a case that delves into intensely personal issues on
both sides," he said. "It's really the perfect case to be settled
because there are lots of areas of compensation other than money
that come along with getting the case settled: not having to be
involved in this public issue any more."

U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch has said he hoped the trial
could begin this summer.

Pozner, a past president of the National Association of Criminal
Defense Lawyers, said it was never in Bryant's best interest to go
to trial.

"Let's assume that a year from now a civil jury had found that
Kobe Bryant was not liable," Pozner said. "That verdict would not
give him back the year of distraction, the year of legal fees, the
year of answering questions. This is I think a business decision
made for business reasons; it's not, I think, about the case.

"It's an end to a sad affair, a sad situation."