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Bryant Loses Bid to Skip Colo. Court Date

July 31, 2003

EAGLE, Colo. (AP) _ A bid by Kobe Bryant to skip his first court appearance next week on a sexual assault charge was rejected Thursday by a judge.

The decision came the same day attorneys for several media organizations asked the judge to unseal court records, saying the Los Angeles Lakers’ star waived his right to privacy when he declared his innocence at a news conference.

Judge Fred Gannett said he wouldn’t rule on the records issue before Bryant’s court appearance Wednesday.

In their filing, defense attorneys said Bryant’s absence Wednesday would reduce ``the impact on the courthouse and the need for security.″ Defense attorney Hal Haddon said their request was rejected by Gannett a few hours after they filed it. The judge’s reasoning wasn’t immediately clear.

The defense suggested Bryant intends to seek a preliminary hearing to determine whether he should stand trial.

Bryant, a 24-year-old husband and father of one, has said he had sex with a 19-year-old employee at a mountain resort June 30 but denies assaulting her. He is free on $25,000 bond.

Much of the information about the allegation has been sealed, including the arrest affidavit and court records that could provide clues to the evidence.

Chris Beall, a lawyer representing organizations including NBC, The Denver Post and the Los Angeles Times, said the presumption of public access to court records is ``a hallmark of our judicial system.″

``Every day that goes by when the public doesn’t have an opportunity to understand the evidence is a day lost under the Constitution,″ he said in a courtroom filed with reporters during a hearing carried on cable TV.

``The defendant has asserted that the release of the arrest warrant and search warrant affidavit will harm his right to privacy,″ he said. ``However, the defendant has made admissions on international TV of a sexual relationship he says was consensual with the victim. That statement is a waiver of his right to privacy with respect to those facts.″

District Attorney Mark Hurlbert and defense lawyers want the records to remain sealed, saying publicity could affect Bryant’s right to a fair trial.

Prosecutor Gregory Crittenden said the case cannot be treated as a typical criminal court proceeding.

``We’re dealing with a celebrity that is recognizable worldwide and, because of this, we have to look at it differently,″ he said. ``The media is already pre-trying this case or attempting to pre-try this case in a court of public opinion.″

Haddon also warned that it could be difficult to select an impartial jury if documents are released publicly.

``There is every substantial probability of a clear and present danger that you cannot pick an impartial jury in this county or this state,″ he said.

The hearing was held as ABC News, the Rocky Mountain News and the Vail Daily newspaper cited unidentified sources as saying Bryant and his accuser had consensual sexual contact, but that she did not agree to have intercourse with him.

Representatives of the prosecutor and the sheriff’s office declined comment on the reports.

The judge has ordered a limit on public comment about the case by attorneys, authorities and others, including Bryant and any witnesses. He said the order was necessary to guarantee a fair trial.

Gannett also has warned organizations not to publish or broadcast the name or photograph of any witness, juror, potential juror or the alleged victim and her family on the courthouse grounds. Any organization violating the order could be denied a seat in the courtroom.

Hurlbert has said he has physical and testimonial evidence to prove the case. He said Bryant forced the victim into ``submission″ through physical force, but the prosecutor refused to disclose other details.

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