Judge considers media motions in Kobe Bryant case
- Media organizations filed a motion challenging the constitutionality of the trial judge’s warning that he would deny courtroom access to media organizations who publish the name or photo of the alleged sexual assault victim of a pro basketball player, and awaited a ruling on a motion to unseal evidence in the case.
Aug. 1, 2003 — Evidence in the sexual assault case against NBA star Kobe Bryant should be unsealed because public access to court records is “a hallmark of our judicial system,” a media attorney argued on Thursday.
Several media organizations are requesting access to sealed documents in the high-profile criminal case pending in a Eagle County, Colo., court. Bryant, a guard for the Los Angeles Lakers, is accused of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman on June 30 at a resort where he was staying and she worked.
“Every day that goes by when the public doesn’t have an opportunity to understand the evidence is a day lost under the Constitution,” Chris Beall, an attorney for several media organizations, argued in court.
“The defendant has asserted that the release of the arrest warrant and search warrant affidavit will harm his right to privacy,” Beall 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 Bryant’s lawyers have argued the records should be withheld because publicity could affect Bryant’s right to a fair trial, The Associated Press reported.
Judge Frederick Gannett said he would not rule on the motion to unseal the documents before Bryant’s initial court appearance, which is set for Aug. 6.
On Tuesday, Gannett issued an order warning that news organizations who publish the alleged victim’s name or photograph may not get a seat in the courtroom. Any photographing or attempting to contact the victim and her family, witnesses, and jurors and prospective jurors could also result in permanent expulsion from the trial, the decorum order said.
Attorneys representing The Denver Post, NBC, the Los Angeles Times, The Orange County Register, and Fox News filed a motion on Wednesday that challenges the constitutionality of the order as a prior restraint on speech.
The motion asks the court “to clarify that its apparent directive prohibiting the publication of the alleged victim’s name or image is intended only as an hortatory or suggestive admonition” instead of unconstitutional limit on speech. The motion also requests that the judge narrow the restrictions placed upon the press to gather news outside the courtroom.
Most American news organizations have policies against releasing the identities of sex abuse victims and have not named Bryant’s accuser. The accuser’s identity, however, has been posted on Web sites and a Los Angeles-based radio talk show host, whose show is broadcast in 60 cities, used the victim’s name on air.
On July 25, Gannett agreed to allow one video camera and one still camera into the courtroom for Bryant’s preliminary hearing. Bryant’s attorneys are challenging that order.
Another jurist, Eagle County Judge Richard Hart, is expected to rule soon on an open records request from the Vail Daily for the release of dispatch records concerning the home of Bryant’s accuser. Police were called to her home earlier this year. The Vail newspaper has sued the towns of Eagle and Vail for improperly withholding the information.
(Colorado v. Bryant; Media attorneys: Thomas Kelley, Steven Zansberg, Christopher Beall, Faegre & Benson LLP, Denver) — KH
© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press