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Media fighting for disclosure of court records

EAGLE, Colo. -- A bid by Kobe Bryant to skip his first court appearance next week on a sexual assault charge was rejected Thursday by a judge.

The decision came the same day attorneys for several media organizations asked the judge to unseal court records, saying the Los Angeles Lakers' star waived his right to privacy when he declared his innocence at a news conference.

Judge Fred Gannett said he wouldn't rule on the records issue
before Bryant's court appearance Wednesday.

After the hearing, Gannett said it was important for Bryant to
be in court Wednesday. "It's vital for him. It's vital for us.
It's where the process begins," the judge told KMGH-TV in Denver.

In their filing, defense attorneys had said Bryant's absence
would reduce "the impact on the courthouse and the need for
security." The defense suggested Bryant intends to seek a
preliminary hearing to determine whether he should stand trial.

Bryant, a 24-year-old husband and father of one, has said he had
sex with a 19-year-old employee at a mountain resort June 30 but
denies assaulting her. He is free on $25,000 bond.

Much of the information about the allegation has been sealed,
including the arrest affidavit and court records that could provide
clues to the evidence.

Chris Beall, a lawyer representing organizations including NBC,
The Denver Post and the Los Angeles Times, said the presumption of
public access to court records is "a hallmark of our judicial
system."

"Every day that goes by when the public doesn't have an
opportunity to understand the evidence is a day lost under the
Constitution," he said in a courtroom filed with reporters during
a hearing carried on cable TV.

"The defendant has asserted that the release of the arrest
warrant and search warrant affidavit will harm his right to
privacy," he said. "However, the defendant has made admissions on
international TV of a sexual relationship he says was consensual
with the victim. That statement is a waiver of his right to privacy
with respect to those facts."

District Attorney Mark Hurlbert and defense lawyers want the
records to remain sealed, saying publicity could affect Bryant's
right to a fair trial.

Prosecutor Gregory Crittenden said the case cannot be treated as
a typical criminal court proceeding.

"We're dealing with a celebrity that is recognizable worldwide
and, because of this, we have to look at it differently," he said.
"The media is already pre-trying this case or attempting to
pre-try this case in a court of public opinion."

Defense attorney Hal Haddon also warned that it could be difficult to select an impartial jury if documents are released publicly.

"There is every substantial probability of a clear and present
danger that you cannot pick an impartial jury in this county or
this state," he said.

The hearing was held as ABC News, the Rocky Mountain News and
the Vail Daily newspaper cited unidentified sources as saying
Bryant and his accuser had consensual sexual contact, but that she
did not agree to have intercourse with him.

Representatives of the prosecutor and the sheriff's office
declined comment on the reports.

The judge has ordered a limit on public comment about the case
by attorneys, authorities and others, including Bryant and any
witnesses. He said the order was necessary to guarantee a fair
trial.

Gannett also has warned organizations not to publish or
broadcast the name or photograph of any witness, juror, potential
juror or the alleged victim and her family on the courthouse
grounds. Any organization violating the order could be denied a
seat in the courtroom.

Hurlbert has said he has physical and testimonial evidence to
prove the case. He said Bryant forced the victim into
"submission" through physical force, but the prosecutor refused
to disclose other details.