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Supreme Court Appeal Dropped

Media attorneys declare victory one day after the judge in the Bryant case releases transcripts.

August 04, 2004|Steve Henson | Times Staff Writer

Declaring a 1st Amendment victory, news organizations withdrew their appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, one day after the judge in the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case released transcripts of a closed hearing.

The transcripts were mistakenly e-mailed June 24 to seven news organizations, including The Times, and the trial judge and Colorado Supreme Court prohibited publication of the contents. However, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer suggested that Eagle County Judge Terry Ruckriegle release them in an edited form.

The 109 pages of transcripts, which dealt primarily with evidence that Bryant's accuser had sex with another man around the time of the alleged rape, were lightly edited.

Media attorneys argued that Ruckriegle's original order wrongly prohibited publication of legally obtained information.

"In his ruling, Judge Ruckriegle properly acknowledges ... that in the circumstances of this case -- even in the face of significant privacy interests -- such an order cannot be maintained," media attorney Steven Zansberg said.

Ruckriegle received lower marks from a Colorado review panel, according to records released Tuesday. The Commission on Judicial Performance urged the judge to improve his demeanor but unanimously recommended that voters retain him.

Bryant prosecutor Mark Hurlbert and prosecution spokeswoman Krista Flannigan were on the nine-member panel that reviewed Ruckriegle.

A judge since 1984, Ruckriegle was among three finalists for a seat on the Colorado Supreme Court in 2000.

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Prosecutors have withdrawn Robert Gaensslen, a forensic specialist at the University of Illinois Chicago, as an expert and replaced him with Rick Jobin, a DNA specialist for the Alberta Fish and Wildlife forensic laboratory in Edmonton, Canada.

Jobin will testify that sperm may persist on cotton cloth even after the stain has been washed, according to Eagle County Dist. Atty. Mark Hurlbert. Jobin will testify that DNA obtained from underwear may represent episodes of intercourse that occurred months before the testing.

Jobin will rebut testimony from defense expert Elizabeth Johnson, who has said that sperm and semen found on two pairs of underwear worn by Bryant's accuser suggest that the woman had sex with someone other than the Laker star in the hours after the alleged rape.

In a separate ruling, Ruckriegle ordered that either the prosecution or the defense may use evidence from Bryant's medical examination.

The judge earlier had ruled that the evidence was inadmissible because detectives acted improperly when asking Bryant to submit to the exam.

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A woman who says Bryant groped her at the Florida home of Shaquille O'Neal at a 2002 party could be called as a witness, according to a story in the current issue of Sports Illustrated.

The story said prosecutors planned to subpoena the 22-year-old woman and ask her to testify if Bryant takes the stand in his defense.

It was believed that prosecutors would not present evidence about Bryant's previous sexual conduct because, at a hearing in May, defense attorney Hal Haddon said, "We have been notified by the prosecution that they do not intend on putting forth any such evidence."

However, Flannigan said Tuesday that "the preparation of any case is fluid."

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