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Bryant’s Accuser Files Civil Suit

Times Staff Writer

The woman accusing Kobe Bryant of sexual assault filed a civil suit in federal court Tuesday, a move experts said was another blow to the prosecution in the criminal case against the Laker star.

The 11-page suit, filed in Denver, requests a jury trial for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. Analysts said the filing could threaten a criminal trial, because the defense probably would point out to jurors that Bryant’s accuser is seeking money civilly.

The accuser’s version of the alleged rape is recounted in the suit, which claims Bryant “has a history of attempting to commit similar acts of violent sexual assault on females he has just met and has thereby established a pattern and practice of such unlawful acts.”

The suit said the 20-year-old woman has been subjected to “public scorn, hatred and ridicule” since the alleged rape June 30, 2003, at a Colorado mountain resort.

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“The conduct of defendant Bryant demonstrates willful, reckless and intentional criminal conduct,” attorneys John Clune, Lin Wood and Joseph Rawls wrote.

Bryant 25, has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault. He has said he had consensual sex with the woman, then 19. Jury selection is scheduled to begin Aug. 27 in Eagle County Court.

Besides the alleged rape, there have been two reported instances of sexual behavior by Bryant outside his marriage:

* A Portland, Ore., hotel worker told reporters Bryant kissed her in his room. The woman reportedly refused to cooperate with the prosecution.

* A Florida woman claims she was the target of unwanted sexual advances from Bryant at a 2002 Thanksgiving Day party at Shaquille O’Neal’s home in Orlando, Fla. Prosecutors planned to subpoena her because she also was not willing to cooperate, according to Sports Illustrated.

“Wood and Clune trapped the defense team by including in the suit an explosive allegation that he is a serial rapist,” said Craig Silverman, a Denver attorney who has followed the case closely. “They know Kobe’s attorneys can’t respond because of the gag order the defense itself initiated in the criminal case.”

Prompted by national television appearances by the accuser’s attorneys last week, Bryant attorney Hal Haddon asked Judge Terry Ruckriegle to order that everyone associated with the criminal case stop speaking publicly. The judge swiftly issued that ruling.

Attorney Wood, appearing on “Good Morning America,” said the accuser had a greater chance at pursuing justice in civil court because recent mistakes by criminal court personnel resulted in her name and sealed evidence about her sex life being made public.

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Prosecution spokeswoman Krista Flannigan said prosecutors intend on moving forward with the criminal trial. However, experts said the timing of the filing is an indication the woman might not be willing to testify until a civil trial.

“Filing a civil suit before a criminal trial provides ammunition for the defense,” Silverman said.

Among evidence improperly revealed was graphic testimony from a DNA expert working for the defense that details why Bryant’s attorneys believe the woman had sex with someone else in the hours after the alleged rape and before her medical examination the following day.

Ruckriegle has ruled that evidence of the woman’s sexual conduct in the 72 hours before the medical exam and her sexual history with two key witnesses will be admissible at trial.

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A decision on whether evidence of the woman’s multiple suicide attempts, mental health and drug and alcohol use is pending.

None of Ruckriegle’s rulings would apply to the civil case.

“The issue would still be relevancy, but we would be back to square one,” said Karen Steinhauser, a Denver law professor.

The civil suit was filed in federal court because Bryant and the accuser live in different states, and because the amount sought exceeds $75,000.

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Legal analysts said the only alternatives were to file the suit in state court in the areas where Bryant and his accuser reside.

“The choices were Eagle County, Colo., where Terry Ruckriegle is the presiding judge, or Los Angeles, where Kobe Bryant is the presiding basketball hero,” Silverman said.

Filing the case in California would have given the woman the potential of a larger settlement. The cap in Colorado for non-economic damages -- typically known as pain and suffering -- is only $366,500. A judge can double the award under extraordinary circumstances.

Economic damages -- lost wages, medical bills and future earnings -- can be added to the award.

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“You can have a vocational economist testify and find ways to push the damages into the millions, but not the tens of millions,” Silverman said.

The standard of proof is lower in civil court, where a plaintiff must prove only that it is more likely than not that the defendant caused harm. In a criminal case, prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant committed a crime.


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