Sports Law Blog
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Sunday, August 08, 2004

Trial Mismanagement on a Grand Scale: The Kobe Bryant affair is beginning to resemble the OJ Simpson trial as an example of the complete breakdown of the system, and the trial in the case has not even begun. I sincerely hope that the mistakes in this case have been caused by the unfamiliar media circus and does not represent the normal level of incompetence at work in the criminal system.

Thus far, clerks in the court have mistakenly released the name of the alleged victim, and information about her. They did this not once, but at least twice -- the second time to a large number of reporters. The court reporter accidentally e-mailed closed-door hearing transcripts to a number of media organizations. The transcripts focused primarily on a defense expert's opinion that the woman had sex with someone after Bryant and before her hospital exam, as well as a defense claim that she is pursuing the case for monetary reasons.

The judge in the case has apologized for these mistakes, but the damage may have already been done. The alleged victim has said that she may drop the criminal charges, focusing instead on the civil trial. This could be used as evidence that the woman is not concerned with justice being done, but rather with achieving a large sum of money from the basketball star. And I have made the argument that the information concerning her sexual history and sexual acts around the time of the incident should be released. But the information should have come out as testimony, not as a leak to the media.

The media also cannot hide from its role in the debacle. Yes, the public has a right to know pertinent information regarding the judicial process. But there is no right for the media, or anyone else, to know information that could derail the fair administration of justice. There is no reason the media could not report the findings once they were disclosed at trial, in front of an impartial jury. Instead, in its race to report a big story, the media has tainted a large segment of the jury pool and perhaps made the parties reluctant to even continue with the trial. Perhaps it's ironic that in its search for truth, the media may have prevented the world from ever knowing what really happened. Or perhaps it is not that ironic, seeing as how the media seems much more concerned with the story and much less worried about the "truth."

No matter who shoulders the brunt of the blame, justice has suffered in this case. For some, this is further proof that rich defendants will never be convicted in a criminal trial. For others, this evinces the large impediments for women to come forward with rape charges. And for others, it will serve as proof that Bryant is innocent and falsely accused. But the events that have transpired ensure that we will never know what really happened, and because of that, the system has failed.