DENVER – Saying a fair trial was at stake, the judge in the Kobe Bryant (search) sexual assault case urged the Colorado Supreme Court on Friday to back up his order barring the news media from publishing details from a closed-door hearing.
"Although on occasion the Supreme Court has held that the freedom of the press outweighs certain specific constitutional rights, never has it been forced to balance the First Amendment against the confluence of rights at stake here," District Judge Terry Ruckriegle (search) wrote in a 21-page court filing.
He cited both Bryant's right to a fair trial and privacy concerns for the NBA star's alleged victim.
"While it is true that the [news media's] First Amendment freedoms are extraordinarily powerful, they must not be permitted to overcome these most fundamental of personal rights," Ruckriegle said.
The high court had asked the judge to justify his threat to hold media organizations in contempt if they publish details from a transcript accidentally sent to seven media organizations last week.
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 a state victims' compensation program.
None of the organizations have published the contents. The Supreme Court said Ruckriegle's order remains in effect until the question of its legality is resolved.
But the justices said they wanted an explanation from Ruckriegle on why they should not overturn his order prohibiting dissemination of the information.
The situation, the judge said, "threatens to impair the integrity of the criminal trial process as a whole."
Prosecutors in the case also argued that the material should be sealed. Bryant's defense team did not weigh in.
Media attorneys have said the judge has no right to stop publication of the material. The news organizations have until next week to respond to Ruckriegle's arguments.
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.
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. Bryant, 25, has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault. He has said he had consensual sex with the woman, now 20.
Attorneys for the news organizations contend that 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," media attorney Tom Kelley (search) said last week.
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."