CAMDEN, N.J. – Kobe Bryant and an auction house that wants to sell memorabilia from his high school days and early pro career are heading for a trial next month, unless they can work out a deal before then.
U.S. District Judge Renee Bumb on Monday set June 17 as a trial date, but also set a court-guided mediation session for Friday in a case that's the manifestation of an ugly family dispute that all sides seem to want to resolve quickly.
"Maybe I should have had you bring your witnesses today and we would have tried the case," Bumb said at a hearing. "You're all so ready to go."
The main reason she didn't schedule the trial for an earlier date was that Bryant's father, Joe "Jellybean" Bryant, said he could not get to a trial sooner because he's coaching a Thai team in the Asian Basketball League playoffs.
The animosity became public earlier this month, shortly after Berlin, N.J.-based Goldin Auctions announced its plan to auction off Bryant's mementos, which date to his days at Lower Merion High School outside Philadelphia. Goldin's April 30 announcement promised a June sale of the first 100 items of a collection of some 900 provided by Bryant's mother, Pamela Bryant.
The collection includes high school uniforms, signed basketballs, trophies and other items. Goldin estimates the total value for all 900 pieces is $1.5 million. It gave Pamela Bryant a $450,000 advance, which she used to buy a home earlier this year in Las Vegas.
The same day the firm announced the auction, the NBA star's lawyers sent Goldin a letter asking it not to hold the sale, arguing that the collection belonged to Kobe Bryant, not to his mother.
Since then, the auction house filed a lawsuit in New Jersey seeking the right to sell the materials.
Kobe Bryant has sued in California, saying that some of the items — a surfboard from the Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards and a trophy — were last seen in his home there.
Several family members have submitted statements taking sides.
Joe Bryant, a former NBA player himself, and Kobe Bryant's grandmother are siding with Pamela Bryant, saying that Kobe told his mother she could have the items.
Bryant's sister, Sharia Washington, gave lawyers a statement supporting her brother.
The court filings also dredge up old troubles, including Pamela and Joe Bryant saying Kobe made them move out of his California home after he met the woman who would become his wife. Washington brought up other times when she said her mother wanted to make money off Kobe Bryant's name.
Though a trial date was set, there are several legal questions.
Bryant's lawyer, Christian Carbone, said he may continue to argue that the case should be dealt with in California, though Judge Bumb said there is no reason not to handle it in New Jersey.
Also, Bumb said the case could be decided by a jury if either side demanded it. So far, though, neither side has done so.
A California judge last week ordered that Goldin not sell any of the items yet. Goldin's lawyer, Jeffrey Cohen, said in court Tuesday that the auction house would voluntarily extend that ban on sales until after the matter is resolved.
Two items — 2000 NBA championship rings made for Pamela and Joe Bryant — are exempt from that order.