Preview: Kobe's Day In Court

Kobe Bryant declares his innocence at press conference in Los Angeles, Friday, July 18, 2003.
Attorney Andrew Cohen analyzes legal issues for

Superstar Kobe Bryant played an average of 41.5 minutes per game last season for the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association. Barring an entirely unforeseen development Wednesday, his advisement of rights in an Eagle County, Colorado courtroom ought to take about 10 minutes.

Judging from the breathless media attention the brief appearance has generated, you would think that the future of American justice will be on the line Wednesday at 4 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time when the gavel comes down on Bryant's first public court appearance.

Actually, though, it is hard to imagine a less significant legal event in the history of a case — any case, even this lollapalooza of a case.

If this small procedural event were a basketball game, it would be less important than a charity preseason event. It would be less interesting than the annual All-Star Game. It would be less scintillating than any Denver Nuggets game over the past nine years.

We aren't likely to learn anything we don't already know about Bryant, his accuser, or the alleged crime that took place on June 30th. We won't learn anything we don't already know about the respective strategies of the defense and prosecutors.

And we won't even be able to glean any insight into how Bryant's trial judge will handle the case since the judge presiding over Wednesday's appearance won't be Bryant's judge at trial.

Bryant will show up to satisfy his bond obligation, hear the sex assault charge against him and what its potential penalties may be, and then learn when his next hearing will occur.

He will not be asked to enter a plea. He may not even be asked to speak a single word. In less than a quarter's worth of NBA playing time, it will all be over.

Eagle County Judge Frederick Gannett said as much Monday when he ruled that television cameras could, indeed, televise the hearing without implicating Bryant's constitutional rights.

"An advisement is not a matter directed to fact-finding or evidentiary issues which would implicate significant fair trial considerations," Gannett declared. "Given the limited nature of an advisement, the court is not persuaded that there is a reasonable likelihood that expanded media coverage of the advisement would interfere with (Bryant's) right to a fair trial."

And just so everyone is clear on just how minor Wednesday's event will be, Gannett said last week that it could take only a few "seconds" to conclude.

Anyone out there want to calculate how expensive those seconds will be to Bryant, who must fly in from California to attend the hearing and also pay his high-profile lawyers hundreds of dollars an hour to sit next to him in court?

Anyone want to calculate how expensive those seconds will be to all the television networks whose reporters and producers have been swarming over Eagle in anticipation of the first in-court action in the case?

Once Bryant and the rest of an anxious world get through Wednesday's hearing, the case will begin to get more earnest.

We are still waiting, for example, for some fairly important rulings from the judge about whether the contents of the Bryant case file — arrest affidavits, etc. — ought to be released to the public.

If that happens (don't bet on it) we'll all have an excellent preview of what we can expect at trial. But even if those records aren't unsealed, we won't have to wait terribly long before we get an official glimmer of the evidence behind the charges.

The next case event will be a preliminary hearing and that will be substantive and interesting and give us a better sense of the strengths and weaknesses of the prosecution's case.

At the preliminary hearing, Eagle County prosecutors will have to offer evidence "sufficient to induce a person of ordinary prudence and caution conscientiously to entertain a reasonable believe that that the defendant may have committed the crimes charged."

You would think that the victim's statement, alone, combined with whatever physical evidence prosecutors may have from the pair's sexual encounter, will easily satisfy this low burden.

After the preliminary hearing, which prosecutors almost always win, the case will be moved from county court, where it now resides, to district court, where it ultimately will be tried.

Only then will Bryant be asked to formally enter his plea of not guilty.

So, wall-to-wall cable coverage aside, think of Wednesday's hearing as a pre-pre-pre game warm-up, something that's required as part of the process but that isn't particularly memorable for the players or the fans.
By Andrew Cohen