Judge W. Terry Ruckriegle, who presides over the Kobe Bryant rape case, has become the man people love to hate.
In asking this week for a delay in the trial, the prosecutor in the case said that errors by Judge Ruckriegle’s court have tainted the jury pool in Eagle County, the community just west of Denver where the case is being heard. Lawyers for the woman who accused Mr. Bryant of rape said the judge’s rulings and the clerical errors by his court in accidentally releasing documents about her sex life had made her question whether to cooperate in a criminal trial at all.
On Wednesday, her father sent an open letter to the judge laced with some of the harshest invective yet.
“My family and I have lost trust that we can obtain a fair trial in your court,” said the father, whose name, like his daughter’s, has not been officially released.
Bryant, a star for the Los Angeles Lakers, is accused of sexually assaulting the woman after meeting her at a hotel near Vail last summer while he was recuperating from knee surgery. He has pleaded not guilty and said they had consensual sex.
The case, through the months of high theatrics and pre-trial motions, has become a starkly illuminated laboratory, feminists and legal scholars say, for questions of celebrity justice and gender fairness.
But its burdens have taken a toll on the judge, say acquaintances and lawyers who have worked in his courtroom over the years. Usually by this point in the summer, they say, the 56-year-old judge – an avid biker, hiker, camper and hunter in the mountains around his home in Breckenridge – would be at his lean and tan fittest.
This summer, they say, he has been a shadow, often seen working at his office late at night and on weekends, or commuting to the courthouse in Eagle, 90 minutes away, where the Bryant case has unfolded.
“I haven’t seen him on his bicycle once all summer, and he is as pale as I’ve ever seen him,” said Dave Drawbert, a friend and local lawyer in Breckenridge. “I told him this case wouldn’t be good for his health or his family, but his sense of duty prevailed.”
Many legal experts say it is no coincidence that the judge has come under the most withering attacks just as the prosecution’s case against Mr. Bryant has reached what appears to be a crisis point.
On Tuesday, Bryant’s accuser filed a civil suit against him in Federal District Court in Denver seeking monetary damages. Legal scholars said the civil suit compromised the woman’s credibility and effectiveness as a prosecution witness because Mr. Bryant’s lawyers could now say she had a financial motive to see him convicted, since that would help her win in a civil trial. The criticism of the court by the Eagle County district attorney, Mark Hurlbert, and the request for a delay came one day after the civil suit was filed.