Sat, Aug 23, 2003 - Page 20 News List

Judge sparks media row by throwing out Bryant request


A judge on Thursday rejected the media's request to see detailed court records in the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case, agreeing to unseal only the arrest warrant.

Eagle County Judge Frederick Gannett said the search warrant, the affidavit and other material will remain sealed until the case is decided. He put his order on hold and gave attorneys 10 days to appeal.

Media organizations reacted angrily and said the decision shortchanges the public.

Without the documents, the public has no way of knowing whether the sheriff's office and other agencies acted properly in arresting Bryant, said Chris Beall, an attorney for the media organizations.

"What the judge is saying is that in those documents were statements that have little relevance and are unnecessarily prejudicial and inflammatory," Beall said. "I think the voters in Eagle County would like to know whether Sheriff [Joseph] Hoy's office engaged in improper conduct."

Krista Flannigan, spokeswoman for District Attorney Mark Hurlbert, said she could not comment on the specifics of the ruling. A spokeswoman for Hoy did not immediately return a message.

Court documents in the high-profile case have been sealed since the Los Angeles Lakers star was arrested last month. Media organizations sought their release over the objections of prosecutors and defense attorneys.

The arrest warrant and related materials contain nothing that would endanger Bryant's right to a fair trial and should be released, Gannett said. But other documents -- including the search warrant and its affidavit -- will remain sealed.

Gannett said those records contain "factual statements describing graphic details of the alleged sexual encounter," medical test results, evidence that can be challenged in court and the statements of potential witnesses.

"The court concludes that there is a substantial probability that the defendant's right to a fair trial would be prejudiced by disclosure of the affidavit and search warrant materials and that such prejudice could be prevented by nondisclosure," Gannett wrote.

He also said releasing the information would subject the accuser to "further intimidation, harassment and abuse." The ruling did not detail what the woman has gone through, though an Iowa man was charged with making a death threat against her.

Bryant has said his 19-year-old accuser had consensual sex with him June 30 at the Lodge & Spa at Cordillera, where she worked and he was a guest. Free on US$25,000 bond, Bryant is scheduled to return to Eagle for an Oct. 9 preliminary hearing to determine whether there is enough evidence for a trial on a charge of felony sexual assault.

In his decision, Gannett said releasing court documents with details blacked out, or redacted, wasn't an option because the prejudicial material was too intertwined with other information.

Gannett has threatened to bar from his courtroom news organizations that identify Bryant's accuser. He did allow cameras in the courtroom for Bryant's initial court appearance Aug. 6, over the objections of defense attorneys.

Meanwhile, a 22-year-old Iowa man was arrested Thursday and charged with threatening to kill Bryant's accuser.

John Roche of Iowa City left a profanity-laced message on the answering machine of the accuser in Eagle on July 27, according to a federal grand jury indictment.

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