Judge warns media against using alleged victim's name

Updated: July 30, 2003, 10:47 AM ET
Associated Press

EAGLE, Colo. -- The judge presiding over Kobe Bryant's sexual assault case is warning reporters they might not get a seat in his courtroom if they publicize the name or photographs of Bryant's accuser.

Eagle County Judge Frederick Gannett on Tuesday issued the warning as part of a three-page "decorum" order outlining ground rules for media planning to cover Bryant's initial court appearance Aug. 6 and future hearings.

Virtually all American newspapers and news organizations, including The Associated Press, have policies against releasing the identities of alleged assault victims and have not named Bryant's accuser.

But her name, address and phone number have been posted on various Web sites, and a Los Angeles radio host whose show is heard in 60 cities has used her name on the air.

The Lakers star has said his 19-year-old accuser had sex with him willingly at a resort in nearby Edwards on June 30. He faces a single felony assault charge.

New York attorney Floyd Abrams, a First Amendment expert, said the judge's warning may be unconstitutional.

"It goes well beyond what has been approved by any appellate court," Abrams said Wednesday. "The constitutional reality is that the name of the chief prosecuting witness in a case is by its nature public, not secret. This is not an undercover policeman testifying."

Under Gannett's order, reporters also will be barred from using cell phones and tape recorders and from interviewing people inside the courthouse. No photos or video may be taken of witnesses, potential jurors and Bryant's accuser and her family.

Gannett, who discussed the order with reporters after its release, said it was intended to prevent contamination of the jury pool, which could lead to a change of venue.

On Tuesday, Bryant's attorneys asked the judge to reconsider his ruling allowing cameras in the courtroom, saying they were concerned about publicity. The attorneys, Pamela Mackey and Hal Haddon, also asked for a hearing on how the media should be allowed to cover court proceedings.

Haddon and Mackey didn't return repeated calls seeking comment.

More than a dozen Web sites have also wrongly identified another young woman as Bryant's accuser. On Wednesday, she asked publicly that her name and photograph be removed from the sites.

"It has hurt me as a person," Katie Lovell told ABC's "Good Morning America."

Meanwhile, attorneys for media organizations filed motions Tuesday to open sealed court records, saying many details have already been publicized, some by Bryant and Eagle County District Attorney Mark Hurlbert.

"Ironically, at the same time, both the district attorney and Bryant are opposing the very thing that would permit the public to independently test the veracity of their public relations statements, i.e., unsealing the court file," the attorneys wrote.

Eagle County commissioners also gave Hurlbert an additional $105,000 to help handle costs of the case, and left open the possibility of more.

County finance director Mike Roeper said Lake, Summit and Clear Creek counties, which make up the 5th Judicial District along with Eagle County, could be asked to contribute additional money to Hurlbert's $2 million budget.

Roeper said it was the first time in his 2 years in office that a prosecutor has asked for additional funds.

Hurlbert also got some additional expertise: Ingrid Bakke, head of Boulder County's sex assault and domestic violence unit, is on loan for up to a year to help with the case.

Prosecutors and others have been forced to make changes to accommodate the media.

The Colorado Judicial Branch this week is expected to launch its first-ever Web site devoted to a case. The page will have information on hearing schedules in the Bryant case and other details.

"I've had 150 calls a day. It's overwhelming," said Krista Flannigan, Hurlbert's spokeswoman. "It seemed like it was going to save a lot of us time."

Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press