DENVER – The judge in the Kobe Bryant (search) rape case on Tuesday sharply restricted how the news media may cover the trial using television and still cameras, saying he was worried too much exposure could threaten the fairness of the proceedings.
District Judge Terry Ruckriegle (search) said no cameras will be allowed during witness testimony or jury selection. Still photography will be allowed during opening statements and closing arguments. Video and audio coverage will be allowed only during closing arguments.
Attorneys for news organizations including The Associated Press had asked to be allowed to photograph and videotape the entire trial. Attorneys for the alleged victim joined prosecutors and defense attorneys in opposing the request.
Bryant, 26, has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault, saying he had consensual sex with an employee of the Vail-area resort where he stayed last summer. If convicted, he faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation, and a fine up to $750,000. Jury selection begins Friday.
The judge said he was concerned about the potential for witness intimidation and anxiety stemming from physical threats made against the alleged victim, prosecutors and others involved in the case.
"The increased anxiety and apprehension of witnesses that flow from the public display of an image or live testimony reduces the court's ability to maintain a fair trial," he said.
Ruckriegle also prohibited any photographs of jurors and any audio coverage or close-up photographs of conferences at the bench or discussions between attorneys or attorneys and their clients.
Ruckriegle said attorneys in the case have shown "no propensity for showboating or grandstanding" but concluded there was a likelihood that cameras would affect witnesses, some of whom displayed reluctance and discomfort during pretrial hearings.
"Substantial portions of the testimony may no doubt be embarrassing and humiliating for some of the participants and will likely exact some measure of intense psychological stress, if not a physical distress," Ruckriegle said.
The ruling struck a balance between the need to ensure a fair trial and the First Amendment rights of the media, said Bob Pugsley, a professor at Southwestern University School of Law.
"I think that from the O.J. (Simpson) media debacle, judges have become very averse to allowing real-time television coverage of proceedings, including the trial in their courtrooms," Pugsley said.
Steven Zansberg (search), one of the attorneys for the news organizations, said the decision reflects the judge's concern with how cameras may affect witnesses. He said the ruling cannot be appealed.