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Kobe Judge Issues New Gag Order

NBA star Kobe Bryant leaves court at the Justice Center in Eagle, Colo., on Tuesday, June 22, 2004, after a pretrial hearing in his sexual assault case.
AP
The judge in the Kobe Bryant case expanded a gag order after lawyers for Bryant's accuser said she would rethink whether to participate in the upcoming criminal trial.

District Judge Terry Ruckriegle issued the sweeping order late Wednesday in response to a motion by the NBA star's lawyers. The defense motion was not released.

The court, Ruckriegle wrote, "is seriously concerned that the continued public comment of participants in this case will disrupt the process by which a fair trial may be preserved."

Bryant is accused of raping a hotel worker at a resort near Vail last June. Lawyers for the woman, who is now 20, surprised some legal analysts by appearing on television Wednesday to discuss their client's concerns about the upcoming trial.
John Clune and L. Lin Wood expressed their frustration about court mistakes that hurt their client. The most recent was the release of closed-door hearing transcripts in which a defense expert testified that she believes the woman had sex after her encounter with Bryant but before she underwent a rape exam.

Clune has vehemently denied the expert's claims but has said the original gag order, covering lawyers and law enforcement agents involved in the case, prevents him from offering another explanation for the DNA evidence.

Clune also said his 20-year-old client will have to talk with prosecutors about whether she will go ahead with the criminal case.

Asked if his client is considering dropping out of the case, Clune told The Associated Press: "That's something she and prosecutors will have to discuss in the immediate future. The DA's office will have to make that decision on what they want to do."

Prosecution spokeswoman Krista Flannigan said prosecutors had been told the woman would still participate even after the transcripts were released earlier this week.

"Nothing has changed with our plans of going forward with the prosecution of this case," she said. "The impression I got was that the victim needs to have strong resolve."

Flannigan said she didn't know if the case would proceed if the woman does not want to participate.

"Colorado law would allow prosecutors to continue the case even without the cooperation of the alleged victim but as a practical matter the DA isn't going to force this woman to go through with the trial," says CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen. "In fact, I would suspect that prosecutors will be delighted if she comes to them and says, 'Let's stop this case now.'"

Larry Pozner, a past president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said Clune had issued a "white flag of surrender."

"His statement is the most impactful thing you could say to a jury: that you are rethinking the case," he said.

Bryant has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault, saying the sex was consensual. If convicted, he faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation, and a fine up to $750,000.

Clune said his client is considering filing a civil lawsuit against Bryant. A civil case requires a lower standard of proof than a criminal case, and could lead to the awarding of monetary damages but not prison time.

"This young woman is not going away. Whether it proceeds criminally or civilly or both, justice is going to be had for this young woman," Clune said. Wood said decisions on how to proceed should be made in a matter of days.

"If the alleged victim wants to drop the case I suspect her attorneys will approach Bryant's attorneys and at least broach the subject of a settlement that also would end a civil lawsuit before it begins," Cohen said.

Under pressure from the U.S. Supreme Court, Ruckriegle on Monday released the transcripts from a closed-door hearing that were mistakenly e-mailed to The Associated Press and six other media organizations, which fought for the right to publish their contents.

There was no testimony in the documents from a prosecution expert on the issue. Clune and prosecutors say the transcripts are one-sided.

Prosecutors have suggested the woman put on underwear that hadn't been washed before going to the hospital, transferring semen from a man identified only as "Mr. X" to her body.

The judge has said the defense can present evidence about the woman's sexual activities in the three days before the July 1, 2003, hospital exam, saying it is relevant to help determine the cause of her injuries, the source of DNA evidence and her credibility. The woman alleges Bryant raped her the day before the exam.

The new gag order specifically bans eight groups of people from talking about the case in the days leading up to Bryant's trial, which is set to begin Aug. 27.

Those covered by the new order are: prosecutors and their agents, Bryant and his agents, the accuser and her agents, law enforcement and their agents, all witnesses and anyone who attended closed-door hearings. The order also covers anyone who works for any of these people and anyone who shares an office with any of them.

Bryant's lawyers and prosecutors have accused each other of violating the gag order throughout the case. An outside investigation into whether the sheriff's office or prosecutors were leaking information turned up nothing.

Prosecutors also complained about the defense's repeated use of the alleged victim's name during Bryant's preliminary hearing in open court last year. In March, Ruckriegle issued a warning to attorneys reminding them of the gag order. That came two weeks after Clune denied defense claims that the woman had sex with someone else hours after the alleged assault.