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Media petitions Supreme Court over prior restraint in Bryant case

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Media petitions Supreme Court over prior restraint in Bryant case

  • Seven media companies petitioned the Colorado Supreme Court to throw out a prior restraint order, issued by the district court judge presiding over the Kobe Bryant sexual assault trial, forbidding the publishing of legally obtained information.

June 28, 2004 — A coalition of media groups petitioned the Colorado Supreme Court today to throw out a prior restraint order issued by the judge presiding over the Kobe Bryant sexual assault trial.

Last Thursday, June 24, a court reporter accidentally e-mailed seven media companies sealed transcripts of closed-door preliminary hearings in the case. Upon learning of the mistake later that day, District Court Judge Terry Ruckriegle ordered the news groups not to publish any of the information, or be held in contempt of court.

The media groups that received the transcript, and are named in the petition, are The Associated Press, CBS Broadcasting, The Denver Post , ESPN, Fox News, the Los Angeles Times and Warner Brothers TV.

Media attorney Thomas Kelley said he has advised each company to not publish anything from the 206 pages of documents, which detail closed-door arguments over whether the sexual history of Bryant’s accuser should be admitted at trial. Kelley said his client’s “legal position would be best preserved by not disobeying the order” at this time.

In petitioning the state Supreme Court for expedited review, Kelley called Ruckriegle’s order “a facially unconstitutional prior restraint on freedom of the press, in violation of both the First Amendment to the United States Constitution” and the free speech provision of the Colorado Constitution.

Since the closed-door hearings were held, on June 21 and 22, Ruckriegle has ruled that Colorado’s rape-shield law bars the defense from introducing evidence concerning the sexual history of Bryant’s accuser. Bryant, a guard with the Los Angeles Lakers, has said he and his then 19-year-old accuser had consensual sex when they met at a Colorado resort on June 30, 2003.

The media coalition’s petition does not challenge the rape-shield law, only the order that restrains “the press from publishing or broadcasting lawfully obtained information,” Kelley wrote. He further argued in his petition that Ruckriegle entered his order without prior notice or the opportunity for the media groups to be heard.

Assuming the Colorado Supreme Court hears the petition, it must weigh the state interest in keeping the sexual history of Bryant’s accuser private against what the U.S. Supreme Court called in the 1976 case Nebraska Press Ass’n v. Stuart , “the most serious and least tolerable infringement on First Amendment rights.”

(The Associated Press. et al v. District Court for the Fifth Judicial District of Colorado; Media Counsel: Thomas Kelley, Faegre & Benson, Denver) JL

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