DENVER – The Colorado Supreme Court (search) stepped into a First Amendment (search) battle in the Kobe Bryant (search) case Tuesday, ordering the trial judge to justify his threat to hold media organizations in contempt if they publish transcripts from a closed-door hearing.
The transcripts were accidentally sent to seven media organizations last week. Responding to a request from media attorneys, the Supreme Court gave District Judge Terry Ruckriegle until Friday to explain why it should not overturn his order prohibiting dissemination of the information.
Justices also said they would consider arguments from prosecutors, Bryant's lawyers and an attorney for the accuser.
A court reporter meant to send the transcripts to Ruckriegle, but instead e-mailed them to the media groups, including The Associated Press. A few hours later, Ruckriegle ordered those groups to destroy their copies without publishing them.
The transcripts deal with attempts by Bryant's attorneys to introduce information about the accuser's sex life and about money she has received under the state Crime Victims Compensation program.
Bryant's attorneys claim she had multiple sexual partners in the days surrounding her June 2003 encounter with the NBA star and have suggested her reported injuries could have been caused by someone other than Bryant. They also have suggested the woman received unusually large amounts of money from the victims program as an incentive to continue the court battle.
Ruckriegle has not ruled on whether any of that information can be used during the trial, scheduled to begin Aug. 27 in Eagle, Colo.
Bryant, 25, has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault. He has said he had consensual sex with the woman, now 20.
Attorney Tom Kelley, who represents the media groups, said Ruckriegle's order amounted to prior restraint of the press, which the U.S. Supreme Court has never permitted, even in cases of national security.
None of the organizations that received the transcripts have published their contents. The Supreme Court said Ruckriegle's order remains in effect until the question of its legality is resolved.
Justices gave the media until July 7 to reply to Ruckriegle's explanation.
In his request Monday, Kelley said prior restraint is a clear violation of free-speech and free-press guarantees in the Constitution.
"The Constitution does not tolerate the executive or legislative branches commanding the press what it can report and when it can be reported; nor does the Constitution tolerate such control of the press by the judiciary, even when other important rights are at stake," Kelley said.
In addition to the AP, the other organizations involved in the challenge are The Denver Post, the Los Angeles Times, CBS, Fox News, ESPN and the television show "Celebrity Justice."