DENVER – With Kobe Bryant's (search) sexual assault trial scheduled to begin in less than two weeks, speculation is mounting that prosecutors are looking for a way to dismiss the charge after a series of setbacks.
The NBA (search) star is due in court Monday in Eagle, his final court appearance before jury selection begins on Aug. 27.
But events of the past two weeks suggest prosecutors might be seeking an avenue to dismiss the charge with minimal embarrassment, legal experts said.
"We have too many things happening in this case that we just don't normally have," said Larry Pozner, former president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (search). "The big picture? None of this bodes well for the prosecution."
Officials connected with the case are barred from commenting in detail to the media, but district attorney's spokeswoman Krista Flannigan has said prosecutors still plan to try Bryant, who acknowledges having sex with the then 19-year-old hotel employee last summer but insists she consented.
Among the setbacks for prosecutors:
_In late July, District Judge Terry Ruckriegle lost a battle with media attorneys and was forced to release transcripts of a closed-door hearing that prosecutors called "extremely harmful" to their case. The transcripts had mistakenly been e-mailed to a handful of media organizations.
In the transcripts, a defense expert witness explained why she believed DNA evidence indicated the alleged victim had sex with another man after her encounter with Bryant but before her hospital exam the following day. The defense has suggested it would make that argument to undermine the accuser's credibility.
The woman's attorney denied the claim, but prosecutors said release of the transcript threw into question whether a fair jury could be seated.
_Soon after the transcript was released, the accuser's attorneys, John Clune and Lin Wood, appeared on national television to criticize courthouse blunders that they said damaged their client's faith in the justice system. They questioned whether the mistakes — the e-mailing of the transcripts in June to several news organizations, and the posting of the alleged victim's name on a state court Web site — would prevent a fair hearing of their clients' accusation.
_Last week, the woman's lawyers filed a civil suit against Bryant in federal court, seeking unspecified monetary damages for pain, "public scorn, hatred and ridicule" they said she has suffered since her encounter with the Los Angeles Lakers guard. Bryant attorney Pamela Mackey said in a court filing that the lawsuit had the effect of "exposing her motivation to pursue her false accusation — the hope of a large monetary reward."
_On Friday, Ruckriegle dealt the prosecution another blow, turning down a motion to delay the trial.
A state hearing officer on a panel that determines violations of Colorado's Rules of Professional Conduct, Tom Overton, told The Denver Post he was "appalled" by interviews in which Wood and Clune have criticized the judge. Overton said that if media reports of the lawyers' comments are correct, "their actions have shown an utter contempt for the integrity of the state judicial system and the court."
Clune said Friday that neither he nor Wood could comment because of a gag order. However, Denver civil rights attorney David Lane contends Wood and Clune are not covered by the order, since they are not part of the criminal case.
Bryant, 25, faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation, and a fine up to $750,000.
Despite the setback Friday, the judge did give the prosecution some good news. He issued another ruling prohibiting or limiting testimony about the woman's mental health, including purported suicide attempts and any drug and alcohol use.
Legal experts said the ruling on the woman's mental health history could help encourage her to continue participating in the criminal case by keeping potentially embarrassing information out of public view.
The developments had some legal experts guessing the case was about to be dismissed. Others said the alleged victim might be trying to win judgments against Bryant in both civil and criminal court.
"If this woman is really angry about what happened to her and doesn't want to see it happen to other women, she might proceed with the criminal case win or lose, just to put Kobe Bryant through some additional hoops, just to have 12 people looking at Kobe Bryant and wondering about him for the duration of a trial, just to have the possibility that he might get convicted," said former prosecutor Norm Early.
It would be to her advantage in civil court to have prosecutors drop the felony charge and avoid the possibility of acquittal, said Dan Recht, former president of the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar. He said an acquittal would make it more difficult to convince a civil jury that Bryant harmed the woman, despite the lower standard of proof required to win a civil case.