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  Fri, September 3, 2004


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Kobe, cash and Canadian cases
Mike Ulmer looks at what happens when rich and famous athletes get into legal trouble
By MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

NBA star Kobe Bryant and his attorney Pamela Mackey leave the Justice Center in Eagle, Colo., on Wednesday, Sept 1, 2004, where jury selection in Bryant's sexual assault trial continues. (AP Photo/George Kochaniec Jr, Pool)

"You guys know me, you know I wouldn't do this," Kobe Bryant told reporters on the first day of his masterful public relations and legal campaign to make his Colorado rape charge go away.

Yes, we do now.

It was all, as he insists, a misunderstanding, one that he now fully comprehends thanks to several months in court.

"Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did," he said of his accuser. What a guy.

Bryant's lawyers then quickly moved to dispel any glimmer of relief that non-admission would have afforded the woman.

"Kobe was facing life in prison for a crime he did not commit," said his mouthpiece, Pamela Mackey. "The accuser insisted on that statement as the price of freedom. The statement does not change the facts. Kobe is innocent and is now free."

That accuser is a 20-year-old woman who said she no longer wanted to proceed with the prosecution of the Los Angeles Lakers star.

Her name has been widely circulated, in part by accident by an astonishingly overmatched prosecution team, in part because Bryant's attorney used her name several times in open court.

That was enough to set off the press dogs and wackos. Authorities insist one man put out a multi-million dollar open offer to have the woman killed. Another man found the woman's telephone number and left a death threat.

Since accusing Bryant, she has lived a life on the lam in four states. Bryant, meanwhile, has been jetted from court appearances to Laker games where, you should know, the Lakers went 5-0.

Yes, we know the kind of guy Kobe Bryant is.

A married father of a baby girl who would shag a 19-year-old a few minutes after checking into a resort. Sports Illustrated reported this week he was also a guy who wanted to seek a financial settlement with the woman and that Bryant allegedly told investigators he knew she wanted to have sex with him just by the way she looked at him.

We know Kobe Bryant is the kind of guy who will hire some killer lawyers who managed to speedbag a harried, underfinanced prosecution team.

$200K VS. $8M

The state of Colorado reckons it spent $200,000 US in prosecuting Bryant. ESPN's online legal expert put the tab for Bryant's defence at somewhere over $8 million.

That kind of money surely buys the best legal help, just ask O.J. Simpson. Astonishingly, Bryant's lawyers were able to assert that the woman had one or more sex partners after her encounter with Bryant (a claim lapped up by the media). They also spent many gleeful days interrogating the woman on her sexual history.

It is tempting to say this can't happen in Canada.

A woman's sexual history is far less easy to obtain and use in court in Canada. Defence attorneys rarely try to obtain third-party medical records because they often undermine their cases.

Once a charge is laid, it is almost never withdrawn on behalf of the accuser. That call is made by the Crown. Prosecutors in the Bryant case insist they could have won.

I do not impugn or infer guilt when I point out that many high-profile Canadian athletes charged with sexual assault never made it to trial.

In 1996, Todd Harvey and Grant Marshall of the Dallas Stars were charged with sexual assault involving a 20-year-old in Winnipeg. Those charges were later dropped.

So were sexual assault charges against three Barrie Colts, laid in June 2000.

Undue delay in reaching trial meant another sexual assault charge, this one against then Ottawa 67's player Lance Galbraith, was thrown out as well. In February 1996, a jury acquitted Brian Wiseman, then of the Chicago Wolves, of another charge of sexual assault.

Consider the tactics used to defend current Team Canada defenceman Ed Jovanovski. He was charged with sexual assault back in 1995. Jovanovski's lawyer told reporters of a variety of alleged instances of misconduct by the woman, including one that she had charged and then withdrawn her charges against a teacher. For good measure, Jovanovski's defence team announced it was suing the woman for damages.

The charge against Jovanovski was withdrawn before the trial.

Lawyers, like Kobe's, always say the same things when they win: Their client is very glad the ordeal is over.





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