Breckenridge judge takes on Bryant trial
BRECKENRIDGE – The state’s judicial office announced Thursday that Judge Terry Ruckriegle, the Fifth Judicial District’s chief judge and a Breckenridge resident, will preside over the sex assault trial against basketball star Kobe Bryant.
With Ruckriegle on the bench, local legal observers said Friday, the much-publicized case is likely to stay on a tight track, in contrast to other recent cases involving sports celebrities around the country.
Ruckriegle will begin hearing arguments when attorneys for the Los Angeles Lakers guard and the Fifth Judicial District Attorney’s Office meet Nov. 10.
Bryant is charged with felony sexual assault against a 19-year-old woman June 30 at the Lodge and Spa at Cordillera in Eagle County.
Bryant has said the sex was consensual and he is guilty only of adultery.
Preliminary procedures held in the Eagle County Court in front of Judge Fred Gannett included what many media reports called “bombshell” statements and questions from defense attorney Pamela Mackey that led Gannett to suspend proceedings, clear the courtroom and meet with the attorneys.
According to Breckenridge attorney Dave Drawbert, who has defended numerous clients before Ruckriegle and counts the judge as a close, personal friend, Ruckriegle will likely see such outbursts coming beforehand.
“There are some judges who will let people go on and on and get off track, just because they think it’s their job to let everyone be heard,” said Drawbert, who attended Ruckriegle’s swearing in as judge in 1984. “Terry is not one of those.”
Lawyers and fellow judges know Ruckriegle as a scholar of the law and a workaholic, who still finds time to hunt and ski with friends, as well as support three athletically outstanding daughters.
Most recently, he was a volunteer judge for Summit High School’s zany Airband competition.
Ruckriegle is known for taking his time in choosing his words and delivering judgments – while many people in court are uncomfortable with long silences, Ruckriegle feels no compunction to speak until he has carefully reviewed his notes, case history and considered all sides of an argument.
In addition, many attorneys have suffered the reprimands of a judge who expects them to come to court prepared.
“You better be on time, you better be prepared – that’s his thing,” Drawbert said.
Drawbert said he believes there was no malicious intent in taking the case from District Judge Thomas Moorhead. According to the state’s judicial office, Moorhead will work on the case, responding to media inquiries about administration, logistics and procedures in the court.
Drawbert said Ruckriegle has experience with high-profile cases and likely wants to make sure the Bryant case “doesn’t get weird.”
“He’s going to be judged,” Drawbert said. “Every judge, every attorney in America is going to follow this case and scrutinize it.”
Referring to the murder trial of former football star O.J. Simpson and the judge who heard the case, Drawbert added, “Ruckriegle’s going to run this show. This is not going to be an Ito scenario.”
Ruckriegle has served as judge since 1984 (judges are elected for six-year terms), after serving as a prosecutor in the Fifth Judicial District Attorney’s Office for nine years.
In his time on the bench, Ruckriegle has handled the murder trials of Breckenridge resident Chuck Garrison and Town of Vail personnel director Robert Mach. Ruckriegle also sat on the most recent sex assault case prosecuted by District Attorney Mark Hurlbert, which Hurlbert lost.
The case was fraught with legal wrangling and motions, and Ruckriegle had to order the jury out of the room several times to deal with and admonish attorneys.
Ruckriegle also was one of 11 judges nominated for the state’s Supreme Court three years ago.
With the Breckenridge judge on the case and the possibility that publicity could force the trial out of Eagle County, many observers in Summit County are speculating the trial could come to the Summit County Justice Center on the north end of Breckenridge
With cameramen and paparazzi already staking out the roofs of Eagle County government buildings and offices near the district attorney’s drawing their blinds to avoid prying eyes, some said Friday they fear Summit County’s justice system could get bogged down if the case is moved here.
Ruckriegle is currently not granting media interviews.
Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 237, or email@example.com.
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