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1st Amendment Issue Weighs in Kobe Case

DENVER — In a sealed document mistakenly posted on a court Web site, the judge in the Kobe Bryant rape case said hospital tests performed on the basketball star found his accuser’s DNA — but none from an unidentified person whose DNA showed up on other evidence.

Bryant’s lawyers could use the findings at his upcoming trial to bolster their claim that the woman had sex with men other than Bryant during the week of the alleged attack. They had succeeded earlier this month in getting District Judge Terry Ruckriegle to throw out the same results on grounds that investigators didn’t have the proper court order to take Bryant to the hospital in the middle of the night. In his filing, Ruckriegle said the prosecution does not intend to introduce the same details and he ordered both sides to come up with an agreement by Friday. The woman’s attorney has denied that she had sex soon after the alleged assault.

Bryant, 25, has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault, saying he had consensual sex with the woman at the Vail-area resort where she worked last summer. If convicted, the Los Angeles Lakers star faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation, and a fine up to $750,000.

The court order, which included the accuser’s last name, appeared Wednesday on a Web site where public filings have been posted for months as a convenience to court staff and the media. The site was shut down for about three hours to remove the document.

State courts spokeswoman Karen Salaz said the mistake stemmed from a new posting procedure and that a clerk chose the wrong document to post without a ”critical safeguard” in place. The state court administrator plans to apologize to the accuser and her family and is weighing unspecified actions involving staff, Salaz said.

The posting was the latest in a string of mistakes that the accuser’s attorney, John Clune, has said prompted her to consider dropping out of the case. He declined to comment about his client’s resolve to continue her participation.

”It is inconceivable how this court can explain its continual pattern of revictimizing this 20-year-old girl,” Clune said in a written statement Wednesday. ”This judge must learn that the trust that a victim places in the judiciary is the foundation for the courage that all victims must have to endure the brutal nature of rape prosecutions.”

Clune has asked Ruckriegle to halt use of the Internet and e-mail to distribute information about the case. The judge has not ruled on the request.

In September, the woman’s name was included in another filing on the Web site that was quickly removed. Last fall, the Glenwood Springs hospital where she and Bryant were examined accidentally turned over her medical records to attorneys in the case.

Last month, a court reporter accidentally e-mailed to The Associated Press and six other media groups transcripts of a closed-door hearing that dealt with aspects of the accuser’s sex life and money she received from a state victims’ compensation fund. Those transcripts are the subject of a First Amendment court fight that has gone to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“It is inconceivable how this court can explain its continual pattern of revictimizing this 20-year-old girl.”-Accuser’s attorney, John Clune Most major news organizations, including the AP, have not published the accuser’s name in keeping with a long-standing practice of not identifying alleged sex crime victims. And none of the organizations has published details from the transcripts while the court fight plays out.

Ruckriegle has threatened a contempt of court citation for any news organization that publishes details from the transcripts. None has done so, but media attorneys have challenged his order as an unconstitutional restraint of a free press.

The Colorado Supreme Court upheld the order, saying the state’s vital interest in protecting the woman’s privacy and Bryant’s right to a fair trial outweighs the media’s First Amendment rights. On Monday, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer refused to overturn Ruckriegle’s order but suggested he release an edited version, if not the entire transcript.

Ruckriegle is expected to talk with attorneys in the case during a hearing Friday about what information should be redacted before the documents are released.


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