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Experts praise Gannett's thorough job

DENVER -- The judge presiding over the Kobe Bryant sexual
assault case so far has received high marks from analysts who
praised his handling of complicated legal questions in one of the
highest-profile cases to hit Colorado.

Eagle County Judge Frederick Gannett, who typically deals with
petty crimes such as theft, has taken an unusually large role in
the case.

Most Colorado county judges view their role in preliminary
hearings as a quick rubber stamp to advance the case to higher
court. But Gannett is striving to give both prosecutors and
Bryant's attorneys a fair chance, Denver defense attorney Scott
Robinson said.

"He's trying his best to be fair and doesn't want to be as
abrupt and peremptory as county court judges are in many other
counties who view sitting in preliminary hearings as a bit of a
waste of time," Robinson said.

"Those judges tend to have what I call a `let's get on with it'
attitude and view their role as passing the case along."

Gannett is carefully considering each of his moves in the case
not only to ensure fairness but also to show the world that a
small-town judicial system can handle the case, said Oakland,
Calif., jury consultant Howard Varinsky.

"This publicity is similar to the O.J. (Simpson) publicity,"
Varinsky said. "I don't know how he's doing, but it is a massive
animal to control."

Gannett will resume the preliminary hearing on Wednesday, six
days after he shut it down when defense attorney Pamela Mackey
questioned the sexual history of the woman who accused the
25-year-old Los Angeles Lakers guard of sexual assault.

Bryant, who is free on $25,000 bond, will have to return to
Eagle.

He faces up to life in prison if convicted of the single count
of felony sexual assault. He has said he and the 19-year-old Eagle
woman had consensual sex June 30 while he stayed at the mountain
resort where she worked.

In a preliminary hearing, prosecutors try to present enough
evidence to convince a judge that the defendant should stand trial.

Gannett might have been able to end the hearing when he believed
prosecutors had reached that threshold, but likely wanted to give
the defense a chance to present its case as well, analysts said.

Many analysts believe prosecutors have already presented enough
evidence to justify a trial through testimony from the lead
investigator, who said Bryant grabbed the woman around the neck and
raped her after she said no.

Afterward, Bryant asked the woman not to tell anybody, the
investigator testified.

When the hearing resumes, some legal analysts speculate Mackey
may have another surprise up her sleeve -- a rare move to subpoena
witnesses to testify.

"The rules specifically allow the defense to put on its own
evidence," said Denver defense attorney Dan Recht.

Mackey has declined to talk to reporters about the case.

Gannett, who said the hearing had not progressed as expected,
also said both sides had requested that all or parts of the rest of
the hearing be closed to the public.

University of Colorado School of Law professor Christopher
Mueller said Mackey likely wants to pursue her line of questioning
about the woman's sexual history, "and she can't really do that in
an open hearing if you're going to try to protect the complaining
witness against embarrassment."

He said Gannett probably will ask Mackey to provide him with
information to back up her suggestion before allowing her to go
ahead with questions about the woman's sexual past.

That could provide Gannett justification for closing all or part
of the rest of the hearing, Mueller said.

Gannett is not expected to decide Wednesday whether to advance
Bryant's case to state district court. He has said he plans to
issue a written decision later, something Robinson said was
surprising and unusual.

"I think it really reflects an intention by Judge Gannett to be
as circumspect and thorough as he can be, recognizing that a ruling
from the bench may not appear to be as learned as a carefully
crafted opinion," Robinson said.

Gannett, known by many lawyers as a compassionate, fair judge,
was a Pitkin County sheriff's deputy and municipal judge before
being appointed an Eagle County judge in 1987. He went into private
practice in 1993 and returned to the county bench in 2002.

"He's a real straight player and has a real sense of justice,"
said Eagle attorney Jim Fahrenholtz.