Peterson media blitz yields lesson

August 5, 2003 

Taking the lead from the Scott Peterson case, Colorado court administrators have launched a Web site to meet the intense media demand for legal documents in Kobe Bryant's sexual assault case.

"There was just physically no way the clerks could keep up with the demand the media placed on them," said Karen Salaz, the Colorado Judicial Branch spokeswoman who spearheaded the Web site of the NBA star.

Court officials in Modesto and Eagle, Colo., said they'd never faced cases where every turn is covered by news outlets.

Adding to the challenge, both courts are facing the media blitz with depleted staff and resources because of state budget woes.

Salaz said she heard about the Peterson Web site from members of the Eagle County Sheriff's Department and decided to emulate it for the Bryant case.

Bryant is charged with felony sexual assault against a 19-year-old woman on June 30 at a mountain resort. Bryant said the sex was consensual.

The case has drawn reporters from across the country -- including some who were covering the Peterson case.

But Stanislaus County Superior Court didn't have cable sports networks demanding access to Peterson hearings.

"We have had high-visibility cases tried in this courthouse before, but we've never had ESPN covering courts," said Christine Yuhas, the administrator for the four-county legal district in Colorado's Rocky Mountains handling the Bryant case.

"We kind of took the lead from what (court and sheriff's officials) did in the Laci Peterson case," Yuhas said.

Salaz said she and other court staff were able to have the site operational in a few days. Like the Peterson site, it holds information such as court documents, court rules, schedules and biographies of judges.

"Now the clerks don't have to run off 100 copies of one document," Salaz said. "What we're trying to do is save some money and save some sanity for our clerks."

Stanislaus County court and sheriff's officials said their motivation was similar when media flooded Modesto in April after Peterson was arrested and charged with murdering his wife, Laci, and the couple's unborn son, Conner. Laci Peterson was reported missing on Christmas Eve.

"I knew what a headache and a burden it would be (for court clerks) to deal with each individual member of the media on a one-on-one basis," said Stanislaus County sheriff's spokesman Kelly Huston, whose department was inundated with media requests when Peterson was booked into jail.

"I was becoming Rand McNally; reporters were asking directions to the courthouse, directions to the Police Department, it was crazy," Huston said.

Huston approached court executive officer Mike Tozzi, who was facing a rush on court documents and a pack of reporters firing off legal questions.

"It was a media onslaught, one which we were not prepared for," Tozzi said, recalling the crush of reporters and cameras in the courthouse hallways for Peterson's arraignment. "We really had to do something."

Tozzi thought of a Web site. Huston had just spent his weekend putting one together.

"It was a marriage made in a minute," Tozzi said.

But there can be brakes on the media race to disseminate more information faster.

The judge in the Peterson case is scheduled to hear arguments Aug. 14 on allowing cameras and members of the public into the courtroom for Peterson's preliminary hearing.

The judge in the Kobe Bryant case Monday rejected the NBA star's request to keep cameras out of the courtroom during his first court appearance on a sexual assault charge.

On the Net:

The Colorado Judicial Branch's Kobe Bryant Web site is:

www.courts.state.co.us/exec/media/eagle/courtdocs.htm.

The Web site maintained by the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department with information on the case against Scott Peterson is accessible only to members of the media.

Bee staff writer John Coté can be reached at 578-2394 or jcote@modbee.com.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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