Court spokeswoman: Nothing is final yet

Updated: August 14, 2003, 10:56 PM ET
Associated Press

EAGLE, Colo. -- If Kobe Bryant's case goes to trial, a judge with less than a year on the bench could receive it under a rotating system used to assign cases.

District Judge Tom Moorhead said Thursday that he is in line to preside over the case if the NBA superstar goes to trial on a felony sexual assault charge, but that could change.

"I have been told I'm going to get the case," Moorhead said.

Karen Salaz, a spokeswoman for the state court system, said a felony case must be sent to district court before the selection of a judge is final.

"Even if he is next in the rotation, it's incredibly premature to say that he would definitely get the case," Salaz said.

Moorhead was town attorney in Vail from July 1993 to June 8, 2001, when he became Eagle County attorney. He began serving as a district judge in September 2002.

Salaz said Moorhead's work as Eagle County attorney could be seen as a conflict of interest because the county pays the bills for the prosecutor and sheriff's office.

Legal analyst Craig Silverman said many district judges come from the ranks of government lawyers.

"I don't think it is an obvious conflict of interest," he said.

However, a conflict of interest can be defined very broadly, he added. He recalled that a district judge was disqualified from a Denver bank robbery case years ago because he had an account with the bank.

Bryant, 24, is accused of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old hotel worker June 30 at a nearby mountain resort. He has said they had consensual sex.

Bryant remains free on a $25,000 bond pending an Oct. 9 preliminary hearing, at which prosecutors will try to convince a county judge there is enough evidence for Bryant to stand trial.

If the case moved to district court, Bryant's next appearance would be an arraignment, where he would enter a plea and a judge would schedule additional hearings.

A rotation system for case assignments is used in many courts to ensure fairness with a random selection for judges. Chief judges have the discretion to depart from the rotation.

Chief District Judge W. Terry Ruckriegle has the final decision on which judge will be assigned to the Bryant case.


Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press

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