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Judge Threatens to Sanction Lawyers for Ex-Fire Captain Seeking to Avoid Testifying in Kobe Bryant Crash Case

Vanessa Bryant

Vanessa Bryant speaks during The Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gianna Bryant at Staples Center on February 24, 2020 in Los Angeles, California.

A federal judge overseeing lawsuits about illicit photos of the helicopter crash that killed Lakers legend Kobe Bryant is threatening to sanction lawyers for a retired fire captain if they continue to break court rules.

U.S. District Judge John Walter won’t allow the lawyers to file documents under seal as part of their bid to prevent the ex-fire captain Brian Jordan from having to testify at trial, siding with opposing counsel who said they weren’t notified as court rules require.

“If Jordan’s counsel continues to file documents without fully complying with the Local Rules and the Court’s Amended Standing Order filed on June 29, 2021, the Court will strike all of the improperly filed documents and impose sanctions in the amount of $1,500.00 against counsel,” Walter wrote.

Jordan was a captain with the Los Angeles County Fire Department when he responded to the scene of the January 2020 helicopter crash that killed Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna Bryant, two of her basketball teammates and five adults. Bryant’s widow, Vanessa Bryant, is suing Los Angeles County over illicit photos first responders took at the scene and distributed. So is Christopher Chester, a financial advisor in Orange County, California, whose wife and daughter also were killed. Walter is considering consolidating the cases for a trial to begin the week of Aug. 15.

According to Bryant and Chester’s lawyers, Jordan presented himself as being in charge of media relations at the crash scene when he in fact had no media responsibilities “whatsoever.” They say that Jordan asked specifically about the locations of human remains and “took photos focused on Kobe and Gianna Bryant’s remains.” Phone records show he texted photos to reporters, police and other firefighters, according to the lawyers.

Though Jordan claimed in a deposition that he doesn’t remember if he shared the photos he took of the victims, lawyers say one of the firefighters to whom Jordan texted photos to the day of the crash, Tony Imbrenda, “later displayed photos of the remains of at least one of Mrs. Bryant’s loved ones during the cocktail hour at a gala.”

Jordan retired after the deputy fire chief told him he was going to be fired for taking and distributing photos from the scene.

Lawyers Steven H. Haney and Kenneth W. Baisch of Haney & Shah, LLP in Los Angeles say forcing Jordan to testify about his observations and role at the “gruesome” crash scene, which they describe as “much like a battleground,” will cause him emotional harm.

“Any attempts to remember what occurred that day causes Captain Jordan further trauma, such that two separate heath care professionals have opined that he should not be questioned at this time regarding the horrific events he observed,” they wrote in a July 15 filing.

They’ve been trying since July 1 to file a sealed motion for protective order that, if granted, would keep him off the stand, but Walter rejected their first bid on July 6 and said it was unclear what exactly they were seeking and that their filing “is riddled with errors.”

They tried again on July 15, but Bryants’ lawyers said in their next-day opposition that the filing could have been avoided if they’d followed the court’s requirements to meet and confer with all counsel before new filings, because they’re open to them filing confidential medical records under seal and to a quicker briefing schedule, which are at the core of the request.

“But that requires Mr. Jordan’s counsel to discuss a schedule, not simply to rush an ex parte filing asking this Court to figure out what the schedule should be,” Bryant’s lawyers wrote, referring to a filing without disclosure to opposing counsel.

And while they don’t oppose Jordan’s confidential medical records being sealed, they oppose “the sealing of other, non-confidential information.”

“But because Plaintiff still does not know what Mr. Jordan is trying to seal, Plaintiff does not know whether she opposes that part of the application,” according to the filing, signed by Eric P. Tuttle of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.

Walter fully accepted Tuttle’s argument, writing Tuesday that he was denying the latest request “for the reasons stated” in Bryant’s filings.

Read the full document below:

[Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images]

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A graduate of the University of Oregon, Meghann worked at The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, and the Idaho Statesman in Boise, Idaho, before moving to California in 2013 to work at the Orange County Register. She spent four years as a litigation reporter for the Los Angeles Daily Journal and one year as a California-based editor and reporter for and associated publications such as The National Law Journal and New York Law Journal before joining Law & Crime News. Meghann has written for The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Los Angeles Magazine, Bloomberg Law, ABA Journal, The Forward, Los Angeles Business Journal and the Laguna Beach Independent. Her Twitter coverage of federal court hearings in a lawsuit over homelessness in Los Angeles placed 1st in the Los Angeles Press Club's Southern California Journalism Awards for Best Use of Social Media by an Independent Journalist in 2021. An article she freelanced for Los Angeles Times Community News about a debate among federal judges regarding the safety of jury trials during COVID also placed 1st in the Orange County Press Club Awards for Best Pandemic News Story in 2021.