Vanessa Bryant’s lawsuit against Los Angeles County over photos taken at Kobe and Gianna Bryant’s helicopter crash site saw a testy encounter between attorneys on Friday – and the trial hasn’t even begun.
During a pre-trial conference Friday, an increasingly frustrated California District Judge John Walter told the parties that there were too many exhibits that the attorneys, namely Bryant’s team, sought to introduce at trial.
Walter pushed the trial date for the suit, urging both sides to condense their evidence in the meantime.
“This has been going on since February and all I get is a document that is a couple hundred pages and is not very helpful,” Walter said.”You need to get together and start getting these trial exhibits in some semblance of order.”
He added that if the parties did not pare down their exhibits it “would be a never-ending battle.” There are currently hundreds of exhibits the parties are seeking to introduce.
“The County is working with the parties as directed by the Judge,” Skip Miller, partner at the Miller Barondess law firm and outside counsel for LA County, told Insider in a statement.
On January 26, 2020, a helicopter transporting Bryant, the couple’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, as well baseball coach John Altobelli and his family crashed near Malibu as they were heading to a girls basketball game. All nine aboard, including pilot Ara Zobayan, died in the crash.
In September 2020, Bryant sued the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the county’s fire department, the county as a whole, and eight officers in the wake of reports that first responders took and shared photos of the January 2020 crash site.
Bryant’s lawsuit deals with state claims and federal civil rights claims. Her suit is seeking punitive damages from county defendants tied to her negligence, emotional distress, and invasion of privacy claims. Her federal claims relate to the constitutional right to the images of her deceased loved ones, and LA County agency practices that led to the alleged taking and dissemination of photos.
Walter said during the hearing that he would “continue in my decision to bifurcate the trial,” meaning that the trial would be split to litigate state claims, and then federal claims.
“Some of the claims involve holding the county publicly accountable, after years of denial, obfuscation,” Walter said
Walter added that with COVID scheduling issues at the court, he would seek to hold a seven-day trial in August.
He also said that he is still mulling whether he would try Bryant’s lawsuit directly after a similar one against county workers from Chris Chester, whose wife Sarah and daughter Peyton died in the crash. Chester filed a similar lawsuit with emotional distress claims against county workers who allegedly took photos of the crash site.
Attorneys representing Bryant did not immediately return Insider’s request for comment.
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