DENVER -- Media organizations asked the U.S. Supreme Court
on Wednesday to stay a court ruling that bars publication of
closed-door hearing details in the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case.
Attorneys for the media groups, which include ESPN and The Associated
Press, challenged the trial judge's ruling, which was upheld this
week by the Colorado Supreme Court. The filing was confirmed by an
AP attorney, Dave Tomlin.
The media groups asked Justice Stephen Breyer to put the ruling
on hold pending a formal appeal of the state high court's decision
to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The First Amendment clash centers on transcripts from a two-day
private hearing in June that were accidentally e-mailed to the
media groups by a court reporter.
District Judge Terry Ruckriegle quickly issued an order
threatening a contempt citation against any news organization that
releases details from the hearing, which focused on attempts by
Bryant's attorneys to have his accuser's sex life and money she
received from a state victims' compensation program introduced as
evidence. Those decisions are pending.
In a 4-3 ruling, the state's high court upheld Ruckriegle's
order -- though it acknowledged it amounts to prior restraint, which
is barred by the Constitution. The court said such a step was
permissible to protect the alleged victim's privacy rights and
Bryant's right to a fair trial.
Prior restraint, the court added, "is necessary to protect
against an evil that is great and certain and would result from
Attorneys for the media groups, however, said Ruckriegle's order
"cannot withstand even the most cursory application of
well-settled First Amendment principles."
If the order is not lifted, the media attorneys said, the media
and public will "suffer continued and irreparable violation of
their fundamental liberties guaranteed by the First Amendment."
Bryant, 25, is accused of raping a front desk worker at a
Vail-area resort last summer. He has pleaded innocent to felony
sexual assault, saying he had consensual sex with the woman, now
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. His trial begins Aug. 27.
The media attorneys also criticized the Colorado court's
conclusions on the prior restraint issue.
"Prior restraint is a particular anathema in part because it
always imposes certain censorship based solely on speculation and
surmise that publication will cause some harm," they argued. "In
reality, it is impossible to know in advance what will be published
and whether the publication will cause the asserted harms."
The attorneys also chided the Colorado justices for endorsing
"the truly extraordinary suggestion that prior restraints are a
preferred alternative to post-publication sanctions."
"In other words, the way to avoid self-censorship is to have
the government censor directly," they said. "The Colorado Supreme
Court's logic quite literally stands the First Amendment on its
head. Censorship is what the First Amendment ultimately seeks to
Bryant's defense team has suggested injuries found on the woman
during a hospital exam could have been caused by sex with someone
other than the NBA star. They have publicly suggested she had
"multiple" sexual partners around the time of her encounter with
Bryant -- including someone afterward, a claim vehemently denied by
the woman's attorney.
The media appeal referred to these claims in claiming the gist
of arguments from the closed-door hearing are already in the public
domain through court filings, news stories and the Internet.
The hearing at issue "is dedicated almost entirely to
discussion of a single defense theory about a single alleged sexual
encounter that the defense maintains occurred in the 15 hours
immediately after the alleged victim's sexual encounter with the
defendant," the attorneys said.
Besides ESPN and the AP, organizations involved in the transcripts case
are The Denver Post, the Los Angeles Times, CBS, Fox News and
the television show "Celebrity Justice."