The prosecutor who has led the sexual assault case against Kobe Bryant since last summer said Wednesday he will not take a prominent role in the NBA star's trial, instead leaving day-to-day responsibilities to his chief deputy and two others.
District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said he would provide general oversight in the trial, scheduled to begin Aug. 27. His chief deputy, Gregg Crittenden, and prosecutors Dana Easter and Ingrid Bakke will handle most of the trial duties, a spokeswoman said.
Hurlbert said in a statement that he would be neglecting other duties in his four-county district if he is deeply involved in the trial.
"I have a duty to every citizen in the 5th Judicial District -- Clear Creek, Eagle, Lake and Summit counties," Hurlbert said.
Hurlbert, who was appointed district attorney last year to fill a vacancy, also is campaigning in the November election for a full term. .
Prosecution spokeswoman Krista Flannigan said the state attorney general's office would continue to provide assistance as needed.
She said about 12,000 criminal cases are filed each year in the district.
Hurlbert's decision probably doesn't indicate he has doubts about the case, former prosecutor Karen Steinhauser said.
"I don't feel at all that this has anything to do with his confidence in the case," she said. "He may just feel for whatever reason it's in the best interest of the case for him to take a backseat."
It is not unusual for a district attorney to take a supervisory role in a case, but such decisions typically come earlier, Steinhauser said.
Former prosecutor Norm Early praised the decision, saying Hurlbert essentially was working two full-time jobs: running the district's criminal prosecution efforts and prosecuting the Bryant case.
He said when he was chief deputy district attorney in Denver, he tried 15 to 20 cases a year. As district attorney, Early said he personally tried four cases in 10 years.
"The victim in the Bryant case is not the only constituent in the 5th Judicial District, and other constituents are being victimized on a daily basis, and they feel their cases are as important to them as the Bryant case is to that victim," Early said.
Denver defense attorney Scott Robinson, who has followed the case, agreed it was a good decision.
"Sometimes delegation is the better part of valor," Robinson said. "Certainly there's no dearth of trial experience in the three remaining members of the team."
Bakke and Easter both have extensive experience in prosecuting sexual assault cases and have been involved in the Bryant case since last fall.
Bakke, who joined the prosecution team in July, heads the Boulder County district attorney's sex assault and domestic violence unit. Easter, who joined in November, specializes in crimes against children and sex crimes for the Jefferson County district attorney's office. They have worked together on previous cases.
Dave Lugert, a longtime federal prosecutor who worked in the district attorney's office before becoming a defense attorney, was more critical of Hurlbert, saying the decision could be viewed as political.
"The entire district attorney's office rises or falls with the tide of the verdict in this case," Lugert said. "The verdict will reflect not just the power and persuasiveness of the evidence of guilt but also the degree of preparation by the prosecutors in the trial."
7NEWS legal analyst Craig Silverman said Hurlbert's decision could be seen as a sign of weakness.
"I'm no surprised at Hurlbert's decision but it's like the captain is abandoning his ship," Silverman said. "I've been watching the ship sink over the past several months and it looks like it's heading for a reef. If Hurlbert wasn't going to see this through, why did he start it?"
Silverman also said he expects to see some very important rulings come out next week that will have a significant impact on the case.
Hurlbert said he expected the trial to be over by the end of September.
Bryant is scheduled to return to Eagle for a three-day hearing beginning July 19. He has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault and has said he had consensual sex with a teenage employee of the Vail-area resort where he stayed last summer.
If convicted, Bryant faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation, and a fine up to $750,000.
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