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For Rookie D.A., a Case Study in Support Group Dynamics

August 05, 2003|Steve Henson and Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writers

EAGLE, Colo. — Squinting uncomfortably into the glare of two dozen television cameras, Mark Hurlbert appeared to stand alone against the world when he brought a felony sexual assault charge against Laker star Kobe Bryant.

Since that July 18 news conference, however, the first-year chief prosecutor of Colorado's four-county 5th Judicial District has discovered he has the backing of his brethren throughout Colorado.

Support began with advice and the promise of much-needed financial aid from the two most powerful prosecutors in the state, Atty. Gen. Ken Salazar and Denver Dist. Atty. William Ritter, during a meeting three days before charges were filed.

"We are all going to do what we can to assist a small rural office in a high-profile case," Ritter said. "This is a team effort. Mark spelled out what he required and everyone responded."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday August 07, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 53 words Type of Material: Correction
Kobe Bryant -- A Sports article Tuesday incorrectly stated that the Denver district attorney's office would supply the 5th Judicial District with financial aid in the Kobe Bryant case. The aid will come in the form of staff time and research help, according to Lynn Kimbrough, spokeswoman for the Denver district attorney's office.

A district attorney only since December, Hurlbert is compensating for any shortcoming in experience by delegating the workload and letting others speak for him.

His office door has been locked for a week. He hired a spokeswoman and has refused interview requests for more than two weeks. And he did not appear in court during the first skirmish before a judge, allowing trusted lieutenant Gregory Crittenden to argue that Bryant's arrest documents remain sealed.

More help is on the way. Hurlbert gained the full-time services of Ingrid Bakke, a respected Boulder prosecutor who specializes in sexual assault cases. He can also count on district attorneys from large offices in Denver and Jefferson counties to author prosecution motions and respond to the anticipated flood of motions from Bryant's well-financed defense team.

And even though the 5th Judicial District operates on a shoestring budget, Hurlbert is socking away money for a battle that eventually could cost state taxpayers millions. Eagle County commissioners pledged $105,000 last week and the Colorado District Attorneys council is prepared to dip into an emergency fund that could help pay for expert witnesses, travel costs and transcript fees.

"I'm sure he will be swamped," said Ken Lane, the attorney general's spokesman. "Unfortunately, the fact that [Bryant] is a celebrity means the case is going to cost more to the prosecution."

Whatever money is earmarked from the $2-million annual budget divvied among 11 deputy district attorneys in the 5th Judicial District counties of Eagle, Summit, Lake and Clear Creek won't go far.

Arrayed against the prosecution is the full might of Bryant's name and money, beginning with high-powered attorneys Pamela Mackey and Hal Haddon, who sat beside the Laker guard at Staples Center when he said he committed adultery with the 19-year-old accuser -- but not rape.

Mackey and Haddon are veteran defense lawyers renowned for meticulously uncovering every detail in a case. They also are said to have some of the best investigators in Colorado who have been at work for weeks talking to witnesses and staff at the Lodge & Spa at Cordillera in Edwards, site of the alleged incident.

In Bryant's favor: His immense popularity and reputation, before his arrest, for being among the most private and straight-laced players in the NBA.

"The cult of celebrity is not easily overcome," said Scott Robinson, a Denver criminal attorney, "but [the prosecution] is fortunate enough to be trying this case in a county where citizens have a high degree of sophistication and a healthy skepticism about the invincibility of famous people."

Robinson said he expects the prosecution to continually remind jurors that Bryant should be governed by the same rules of conduct that apply to their neighbors. That, he added, could result in "an overreaction against Bryant's celebrity ... the thinking that, 'We're not going to let this guy walk in here with his fancy suits and big-dollar attorneys and get away with assaulting a local girl.' "

Legal analysts say they expect the trial to include racial overtones, sexual stereotypes and graphic testimony. "This is going to be X-rated, the details of this case will be for mature viewing audiences only," said Craig Silverman, former chief deputy district attorney in Denver.

Colorado's rape shield law largely prevents an alleged victim's sexual history from becoming an issue at trial, but other details of the accuser's past might be raised by Bryant's side.

"If you're the defense, you obviously have to try to go after it, but it may be considered inadmissible or irrelevant," said Jim Fahrenholtz, an Avon, Colo., criminal defense attorney. "I don't think the defense will be able to get those details in, and my guess is that [the prosecution] thinks it will not come in, either."

Complicating trial preparation for the prosecution, legal experts said, is that it will need to re-interview several witnesses who have talked to friends, relatives and reporters.

"That means more work for the D.A.'s office," said Krista Flannigan, Hurlbert's spokeswoman.

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