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Bryant still has battles ahead

September 03, 2004 11:45 IST

Basketball star Kobe Bryant, his criminal charge of raping a young woman dismissed, faces what could be a nasty civil lawsuit, lawyers and experts said on Thursday.

"It's not going to be a cakewalk for Kobe Bryant, but it could be a mudslide for his accuser," said Denver attorney and former prosecutor Craig Silverman, who watched the criminal case.

After weeks of speculation that the criminal charge against the 26-year-old Los Angeles Lakers player would be dropped because the case was weak, prosecutors gave up on Wednesday in the middle of jury selection.

District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said the accuser, who had received death threats, did not want to testify.

A written statement from Bryant on Wednesday apologized for the pain suffered by the woman, who was 19 at the time of the incident.

In the civil suit, Bryant's defense team will be able to delve into her sexual history as well as reported suicide attempts and drug and alcohol abuse.

Ready to ask Bryant the tough questions will be the woman's lawyers, John Clune and Lin Wood.

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"There are risks on both sides --
digging into the past of both of the parties," said Arthur Hellman, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

"It seems to me that both parties would find it advantageous to settle sooner rather than later," Hellman, a scholar on U.S. federal courts, said.

The burden of proof for a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit is lower than in criminal cases because a defendant faces money damages and not the risk of prison.

Also, the woman's attorneys will have control over her side in the civil suit, while the state prosecutor ran the criminal case. No matter what, she would have to testify, Hellman said.

How much could she get?

Bryant may have recently signed a seven-year contract worth $136.4 million with the Lakers, but she should not expect to be thrown into the super-rich category.

Colorado law caps how much she can collect, Denver trial attorney Scott Robinson said. He puts the outside limit at $1.5 million.

Because of his prowess on the basketball court, Bryant enjoyed lucrative endorsement contracts.

However, criminal charges tend to scare companies away.

Soccer moms are not going to buy products Bryant wants to sell if he is too aggressive in going after the accuser, said David Carter, sports business professor at the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California.

"In order to sell product, you really have to combine a winning personality and great athletic achievement. His athletic achievement is held in high regard, but he's been sending a mixed message," Carter said. "Everybody thought he was an all-around good guy."

After all the legal problems are behind him, if Bryant lives quietly and gets in no trouble, he could be promoting items related to athletic performance such as shoes, according to Carter.
Judith Crosson
Source:
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