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Judge in Bryant case casts stern image

Ruckriegle called strict workaholic

DENVER -- The judge who will handle Kobe Bryant's sexual assault trial is a workaholic who enjoys watching his daughters play soccer and going on hunting trips with his friends. He lends his beat-up sport utility vehicle to a local ski team and likes the music of John Mellencamp.

For the next several months, state District Judge Terry Ruckriegle will be at the center of public attention as prosecutors try to convict the Los Angeles Lakers guard of rape.

Ruckriegle, chief judge in a four-county district, has a no-nonsense approach and expects lawyers in his courtroom to be as prepared as he is.

People who know him say he won't tolerate the public bickering that has gone on between attorneys in the Bryant case.

"If the attorneys start acting up like you saw at the preliminary hearing, I think he'll bring the old dog kennel into court and tell the first lawyer who [crosses the line] to kennel up in the doghouse," said David Lugert, an Eagle, Colo., attorney and former prosecutor who worked with Ruckriegle.

Lawyers in his district say he is sometimes abrasive, but fair and impartial.

"He puts a lot of pressure on the parties to move things forward -- a lot of times faster than is possible," said J. B. Katz, a Breckenridge, Colo., lawyer who was on a 1998 state judicial performance commission that recommended voters keep Ruckriegle on the bench.

Ruckriegle is up for the same vote next year.

Ruckriegle, also of Breckenridge, received high marks in the 1998 review for his knowledge of rules of evidence and procedure, for keeping control of his courtroom, and for his treatment of jurors, defendants, and plaintiffs.

"Lawyers who practice before him were less complimentary about his treatment of attorneys, but Judge Ruckriegle believes this is at least partly due to his effort to keep matters moving along," the review said.

Another judge was in line for the Bryant case, but Ruckriegle appointed himself.

"I think he felt it was better for everyone . . . that he preside over this particular case and make sure it doesn't make us here in the Fifth Judicial District look as badly as the folks in Los Angeles looked during the [O.J. Simpson] trial," said lawyer David Drawbert. He is a longtime friend but has been scolded by Ruckriegle at times in court.

"He didn't want this to become any more of a circus than it's already become," he said.

Ruckriegle said through state court officials that he would not give interviews.

Bryant is accused of raping a 19-year-old worker at a mountain resort on June 30. He has said the sex was consensual.

It will be up to Ruckriegle to determine what aspects of the accuser's sexual history can be used at trial. He also will determine whether her medical records should be turned over to defense attorneys.

Away from the courtroom, the judge is a friendly man who attends pro football and hockey games in Denver when he can find time. He never misses an annual fall hunting trip with the same group of friends, Drawbert said.

He was a prosecutor for nine years before he was appointed to the bench in 1984.

He was one of three finalists for a seat on the Colorado Supreme Court in 2000. Ruckriegle and his wife have three daughters.

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