Bryant's accuser files federal civil lawsuit against him

Legal move could damage criminal case, experts say

Pro Basketball

August 11, 2004|By Steve Henson | Steve Henson,LOS ANGELES TIMES

LOS ANGELES - The woman accusing Kobe Bryant of sexual assault filed a civil suit in federal court yesterday, a move legal specialists said was a blow to the prosecution in the criminal case against the Los Angeles Lakers' star.

The suit, filed in Denver, requests a jury trial for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. It recounts the accuser's version of the alleged rape and claims that Bryant "has a history of attempting to commit similar acts of violent sexual assault on females he has just met and has thereby established a pattern and practice of such unlawful acts."

The suit said the 20-year-old woman has been subjected to "public scorn, hatred and ridicule" since the alleged rape June 30, 2003, at a Colorado resort. "The conduct of defendant Bryant demonstrates willful, reckless and intentional criminal conduct," attorneys John Clune, Lin Wood and Joseph Rawls wrote.

Bryant 25, has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault. He has said he had consensual sex with the woman, then 19. Jury selection is scheduled to begin Aug. 27 in Eagle County Court.

Besides the alleged rape, there have been two reported instances of sexual behavior by Bryant outside his marriage:

A Portland, Ore., hotel worker told reporters Bryant kissed her in his room. The woman reportedly refused to cooperate with the prosecution.

A Florida woman claims she was the target of unwanted sexual advances from Bryant at a 2002 party in Orlando, Fla. Prosecutors planned to subpoena her because she wouldn't cooperate, according to Sports Illustrated.

"Wood and Clune trapped the defense team by including in the suit an explosive allegation that he is a serial rapist," said Denver attorney Craig Silverman. "They know Kobe's attorneys can't respond because of the gag order the defense itself initiated in the criminal case."

Prompted by television appearances by the accuser's attorneys last week, Bryant attorney Hal Haddon asked Judge Terry Ruckriegle to order that everyone associated with the criminal case stop speaking publicly. The judge swiftly issued that ruling.

Attorney Wood, appearing on Good Morning America, said the accuser had a greater chance at pursuing justice in civil court because mistakes by criminal court personnel resulted in her name and sealed evidence about her sex life being made public.

Prosecution spokeswoman Krista Flannigan said prosecutors intend on moving forward with the criminal trial. But experts said the filing indicates the woman might not be willing to testify until a civil trial.

If the accuser takes the stand at a criminal trial, Bryant's attorneys could inform jurors she seeks monetary damages civilly.

"Filing a civil suit before a criminal trial provides ammunition for the defense," Silverman said.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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