By: Steven K. Paulson, Associated Press Writer
(AP) The Colorado Supreme Court ruled Monday the news media have no right to publish mistakenly released details from a closed-door hearing in the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case, narrowly backing the trial judge in a First Amendment clash.
The court fight centers on transcripts from a two-day hearing last month that were accidentally e-mailed by a court reporter to seven news organizations, including The Associated Press.
The judge quickly issued an order threatening a contempt citation against any news organization that released details from the hearing, which focused on attempts by Bryant’s attorneys to have his accuser’s sex life and money she received from a victims’ compensation program introduced as evidence. Those decisions are pending.
None of the details has been print or broadcast, but attorneys for the media groups appealed the order from District Judge Terry Ruckriegle.
In a 4-3 ruling, the high court acknowledged the order amounts to prior restraint of a free press, which is barred by the Constitution. The court, however, said such a step was permissible given the context of the Bryant case.
“This prior restraint is necessary to protect against an evil that is great and certain and would result from reportage,” the court ruled.
A message left for lead media attorney Thom Kelley was not immediately returned. The media attorneys have said any ruling against them could be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Bryant, 25, is accused of raping a worker at a Vail-area resort last summer. He has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault, saying he had consensual sex with the woman, now 20.
If convicted, the Los Angeles Lakers star could face four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation, and a fine up to $750,000. Bryant was in Eagle on Monday for a hearing in advance of his Aug. 27 trial.
The Supreme Court ordered the judge to rule as quickly as possible whether information on the woman’s sex life will be admissible at trial. It also suggested the hearing transcripts could be released in edited form.
But the court said there were too many reasons to keep the transcripts from public view to toss out Ruckriegle’s entire decision.
Confidential hearings under the rape-shield statute “protect victims’ privacy, encourage victims to report sexual assault, and further the prosecution and deterrence of sexual assault,” the court said.
Prosecutor Mark Hurlburt had argued against releasing the transcripts to protect Bryant’s right to a fair trial and protect the woman from “harm, harassment, intimidation or retaliation.”
Bryant’s attorneys did not weigh in on the First Amendment dispute. They have claimed the accuser had multiple sexual partners in the days surrounding her encounter with the NBA star and have suggested her injuries could have been caused by someone other than Bryant. They also say she received unusually large amounts of money from the compensation program, suggesting it was an incentive to go forward with the case.
In addition to the AP, the organizations involved in the court challenge are The Denver Post, the Los Angeles Times, CBS, Fox News, ESPN and the television show “Celebrity Justice.”