Wednesday, August 11, 2004

DENVER — The woman accusing Kobe Bryant of rape filed a federal civil lawsuit against the NBA star yesterday, a move legal experts said could cripple the criminal case less than three weeks before the trial begins.

Attorneys for the 20-year-old woman asked for a jury trial and compensatory damages of at least $75,000, with punitive damages to be determined.

Attorneys John Clune and Lin Wood said their client was owed money for pain, “public scorn, hatred and ridicule” she has suffered as a result of the claimed attack last summer. They also accused Bryant of similar misconduct involving other women but provided no details.

The filing came less than a week after the attorneys said they were considering a civil suit after a series of mistakes they say have undermined their client’s chance to have her accusations heard fairly.

To win a civil lawsuit, a plaintiff must prove only that it is more likely than not harm was caused by the defendant. Prosecutors in a criminal case have to convince jurors beyond a reasonable doubt a defendant committed a crime, a much higher standard of proof.

Prosecution spokeswoman Krista Flannigan said the state criminal case will proceed but declined comment on whether the federal case would complicate the trial.

Wood also declined comment, citing District Judge Terry Ruckriegle’s sweeping gag order in the case. Bryant’s attorneys did not return a message.

Bryant, 25, has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault. He has said he had consensual sex with the woman, then 19, at the Vail area resort where she worked last summer. The Los Angeles Lakers star faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation and a fine of up to $750,000 if convicted. Jury selection begins Aug.27.

Legal experts said a civil trial would allow Bryant’s defense lawyers to claim in the criminal case that her motives were purely financial.

Bryant’s attorneys already have argued the woman falsely accused Bryant to gain the attention of a former boyfriend and that she was given nearly $20,000 from a victims’ compensation fund.

“Now all of a sudden it looks like this whole thing was for money. If it’s otherwise, then why would she file a civil case?” said Dan Recht, former president of the Colorado Criminal Bar Association.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Denver because the supposed crime happened in Colorado and the two parties live in different states. Like the criminal case, it accuses Bryant of attacking the woman in his room at the Cordillera resort, causing her emotional and physical problems that linger to this day.

The attorneys accused Bryant of flirting with the woman, a front-desk employee, during a tour of the resort. After the two ended up in his room, they began to kiss. Investigators have said the encounter turned violent after flirting by both Bryant and his accuser and that she told Bryant “no” at least twice.

In the lawsuit, the attorneys said at some point during the kissing “Bryant’s voice became deeper and his acts became rougher” as he began to grope the woman. She asked him to stop, but Bryant is charged to have blocked her exit, grabbed her and forced her over a chair to rape her.

Bryant’s hands were around the woman’s neck, the attorneys said. They also, without elaborating, accused Bryant of “attempting to commit similar acts of violent sexual assault on females he has just met.”

The woman’s attorneys last week went on national TV to complain about mistakes made by court staff. The accuser’s name has been included in filings mistakenly posted on a state court Web site, and a court reporter accidentally e-mailed transcripts of a closed-door hearing on the woman’s sexual activities to seven news organizations, which published the details after winning a court fight with the judge.

“This case unfortunately has been the poster child for the very worst that we can treat a woman and a victim of sexual assault,” said Cynthia Stone, spokeswoman for the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

Damages for pain and suffering and other noneconomic losses in Colorado civil cases generally cannot exceed $733,000. Punitive damages cannot exceed the compensatory award and can be given only if the charges are proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

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