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Vanessa Bryant’s Lawyers Say Ex-Fire Captain’s ‘Changed’ Account Means He Must Testify in Person


Vanessa Bryant and Kobe Bryant

Vanessa Bryant’s lawyers are again opposing an attempt by a retired Los Angeles County fire captain to avoid taking the witness stand in the trial over illicit photos from the helicopter crash that killed basketball superstar Kobe Bryant and their daughter Gianna Bryant.

In a new filing, the attorneys argue Brian Jordan hasn’t “carried his heavy burden” of showing the extraordinary circumstances needed to override Bryant’s right to have him testify in person before the jury, rather than relying on his videotaped deposition. Jordan “recently changed his testimony” and has previously accused Los Angeles County of purposely withholding information about his involvement,” the lawyers say.

“The jury needs to hear from him,” according to the 15-page opposition to Jordan’s motion for protective order, signed by Luis Li, a partner at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.

The dispute is one of the few remaining for U.S. District Judge John F. Walter before jury selection begins next Wednesday. A final pre-trial conference is scheduled Friday at 8 a.m. in Los Angeles.

The effort to force Jordan’s testimony also is on behalf of Christopher Chester, an Orange County financial adviser whose wife, Sarah George Chester, and daughter, Payton Chester, also died in the Jan. 26, 2020, crash.

Judge Walter consolidated his lawsuit with Bryant’s for trial, rejecting Los Angeles County’s argument that jurors will be unable to separate the Lakers basketball legend’s stardom from Chester’s emotional distress claims, which must be proven separately from Bryant’s.

But as the dispute over Jordan’s testimony establishes, Chester and Bryant aren’t the only people in the litigation who are claiming emotional distress. Jordan is, too, with his lawyers citing it as a reason to keep him off the stand. They’ve filed some of his medical records under seal in hopes of persuading Walter to order the plaintiffs’ lawyers to play his video deposition instead of calling him to the stand for live testimony. Their application to file their motion under seal says Jordan “will suffer harm if he is forced to testify at trial regarding his observations and role” at the crash, which “has rendered him disabled and required his retirement.”

But Bryant’s lawyers note in their filings that Jordan’s retirement followed Fire Department leadership informing him he was going to be fired for taking and distributing unnecessary photos of human remains at the crash scene.

“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.

Jordan’s lawyers have tried on two previous occasions to obtain a protective order to keep him from testifying, but Walter rejected both attempts because they didn’t abide by his courtroom rules regarding, among other things, discussing the request with opposing counsel before filing it. In the last rejection, the judge, who has a reputation as a strict stickler for court rules, said he’d sanction them $1,500 if they erred again.

The new filings appear to meet Walter’s standards, as the judge granted the request to file the motion for protective order under seal, and the unhesitatingly combative plaintiffs’ lawyers took no issue with the motion procedurally, only substantively. They included with their opposition a July 21 press release from Jordan’s lawyer Steven H. Haney that said Jordan was ordered to “take lots of pictures” of the crash by a “high ranking official in the County of Los Angeles Fire Department.”

“Neither the fire department or Bryant’s counsel have mentioned or attempted to address the fact that pictures were ordered to be taken,” according to the release. Despite the misinformation, Haney wrote, “Jordan has so far maintained professional silence out of respect for administrative and legal processes, family, friends, and fans of everyone on the helicopter, and for the well-being for first responders that will likely be affected by this incident for life.”

Haney said Bryant’s lawyers falsely claim that Jordan said he was a media relations chief when he arrived at the crash scene, and that he distributed photos from the scene to “members of the media and others.” That’s an example of the new information Bryant’s lawyers say makes Jordan’s in-person testimony so critical. Through the press release, he essentially acknowledges that he is an important witness, and he produced this week “copies of what he claims are text messages showing that he did not send remains photos.”

“Plaintiffs need the opportunity to question Mr. Jordan about his new-found knowledge, the texts he has produced, and his allegations that Defendants ordered him to take the photos and then suppressed the evidence of his innocence,” according to the opposition. “And the jury needs to hear this.”

They also said the press release, which doesn’t mention his emotional distress claims, “undercuts Mr. Jordan’s assertion that he is unable to give evidence because of the emotional harm it would cause.”

Read the full filing:

(Image: via Presley Ann/Getty Images for Baby2Baby)

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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.