Judge: Releasing Transcripts Would Jeopardize Bryant Trial

Ruckriegle Orders Media Not To Publish Secret Transcripts

Saying a fair trial was at stake, the judge in the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case urged the Colorado Supreme Court on Friday to back up his order barring the news media from publishing details from a closed-door hearing.

Judge Terry Ruckriegle told the Supreme Court that the Kobe Bryant trial could be jeopardized if media outlets release secret transcripts that were accidentally sent to them.

"Although on occasion the Supreme Court has held that the freedom of the press outweighs certain specific constitutional rights, never has it been forced to balance the First Amendment against the confluence of rights at stake here," District Judge Terry Ruckriegle's attorneys wrote in a 21-page court filing.

He cited both Bryant's right to a fair trial and privacy concerns for the NBA star's alleged victim.

"While it is true that the (news media's) First Amendment freedoms are extraordinarily powerful, they must not be permitted to overcome these most fundamental of personal rights," the filing said.

A court clerk last week had accidentally sent sealed documents to seven media agencies. Then, after the mistake was caught, those groups were ordered by Ruckriegle not to publish it but to destroy it. He threatened to hold media organizations in contempt if they published details from the transcript of the closed-door hearing.

But media organizations argued that it was an issue of prior restraint, which is a clear violation of free-speech and free-press guarantees in the Constitution.

"The Constitution does not tolerate the executive or legislative branches commanding the press what it can report and when it can be reported; nor does the Constitution tolerate such control of the press by the judiciary, even when other important rights are at stake," media attorney Tom Kelley said last week.

It's a constitutional battle over free speech versus right of a fair trial.

"The DA and court make a pretty persuasive argument that if this information is published it could lead to a delay or perhaps the trial never occurring," 7NEWS Legal Analyst Craig Silverman said.

None of the organizations that received the transcripts -- The Associated Press, The Denver Post, the Los Angeles Times, CBS, Fox News, ESPN and the television show "Celebrity Justice" -- have published the contents.

The Supreme Court said Ruckriegle's order remains in effect until the question of its legality is resolved. But the justices said they wanted an explanation from Ruckriegle on why they should not overturn his order prohibiting dissemination of the information.

The situation, the judge's filing said, "threatens to impair the integrity of the criminal trial process as a whole." Prosecutors in the case also argued that the material should be sealed. Bryant's defense team did not weigh in.

Media attorneys have said the judge has no right to stop publication of the material. The news organizations have until next week to respond to Ruckriegle's arguments.

The transcripts deal with attempts by Bryant's attorneys to introduce information about the accuser's sex life and about money she has received under a state victims' compensation program.

Bryant's attorneys claim she had multiple sexual partners in the days surrounding her June 2003 encounter with the NBA star and have suggested her reported injuries could have been caused by someone other than Bryant. They also have suggested the woman received unusually large amounts of money from the victims program as an incentive to continue the court battle.

Ruckriegle has not ruled on whether any of that information can be used during the trial, scheduled to begin Aug. 27 in Eagle.

Bryant, 25, has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault. He has said he had consensual sex with the woman, now 20.