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Justices Take Up Transcript Fight

Times Staff Writer

The Colorado Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to hear a dispute that has 1st Amendment ramifications between news organizations and the judge presiding over the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case.

District Judge Terry Ruckriegle threatened to hold in contempt anyone who publishes transcripts from a closed pretrial hearing that were inadvertently sent to media groups last week.

The Supreme Court gave Ruckriegle until Friday at noon to justify his order barring publication of the information, which includes testimony from a DNA expert hired by the defense, evidence of the money Bryant’s accuser has received from a state compensation fund, and detailed discussions about the case among the judge, prosecutors and Bryant’s attorneys.

Bryant, 25, has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault stemming from an encounter at a Colorado mountain resort last June 30 -- one year ago today. Bryant has said he and the woman, who was 19 at the time, had consensual sex.

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The defense has introduced evidence that the woman had sex with another man in the hours following the alleged rape and before her medical examination the next day. Attorneys Hal Haddon and Pamela Mackey contend that the woman’s sexual conduct could explain injuries that prosecutors have introduced as evidence and that it damages her credibility.

Prosecutors say that the woman’s sexual conduct has no bearing on whether she was assaulted and that Colorado’s rape-shield law prohibits the evidence from being admitted at the trial, scheduled to begin Aug. 27 in Eagle County Court. Closing arguments on the rape shield were due Tuesday, and Ruckriegle is expected to issue a ruling in the next several days.

A court spokeswoman said the transcripts were sent via e-mail to the media organizations by mistake, that the court reporter meant to send them to Ruckriegle. The Los Angeles Times, Associated Press, the Denver Post, Fox News, ESPN, CBS and the TV show “Celebrity Justice” received the transcripts and are challenging Ruckriegle’s order to destroy them. As of Tuesday, none of the organizations that received the transcripts had published the contents.

The Supreme Court invited the defense, prosecution and attorneys representing the alleged victim to file briefs by Friday as well. Media organizations were given until July 7 to respond.

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Attorneys for media organizations filed the motion to the higher court Monday, saying that Ruckriegle’s order violates constitutional protection of free speech and free press.

In a District Court filing Tuesday, Court TV asked to have two television cameras in the courtroom during the trial.


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