Judge gives Vanessa Bryant more time to investigate in lawsuit over grisly crash photos

A federal judge in Los Angeles has allowed the widow of Kobe Bryant more time to investigate how and why Los Angeles County public safety employees shared pictures of her dead husband and daughter after they died in a helicopter crash last year.

In a ruling Friday, U.S. District Judge John F. Walter said Vanessa Bryant had good cause to extend the deadline for gathering discovery evidence in the case beyond the previous deadline of Aug. 16. He pushed that deadline back to Nov. 29 and also moved the trial date from Nov. 16 to Feb. 22.

Bryant is suing the county for negligence and invasion of privacy, accusing county sheriff and fire department employees of improperly sharing grisly photos from the site where nine died in the crash, including the NBA legend and his daughter.

The county has fought back by saying that the photos were not posted on the internet and that only government personnel and one friend at a bar saw them. The county also opposed Bryant’s request for more time to gather discovery evidence in the case, saying her lawsuit was turning into a “fishing expedition.”

A U.S. District Judge said Vanessa Bryant Bryant had good cause to extend the deadline for gathering discovery evidence in her lawsuit over grisly crash photos. (Photo: Chris Carlson, AP)

The judge said he found the county’s arguments against Bryant to be “unpersuasive.”

“Specifically, due to unanticipated developments in this case, including delays in obtaining initial disclosures, a complete identification of relevant witnesses, and the production of internal investigation reports and documents, as well as the necessity of a time-intensive forensic examination of devices … the Court concludes that it is no longer feasible for (Bryant) to complete discovery before the current discovery cutoff despite her diligence,” Walter said in his order.

Bryant’s lawsuit seeks to punish the deputy defendants and “make an example of them to the community.” The county responded by saying Bryant has no basis to sue the county for invasion of privacy because there was no “public dissemination” of the photos. Attorneys for the county also said in court filings that sheriff’s deputies were subjected to harassment after Bryant posted the names of four deputy defendants on Instagram in March.

In court filings, Bryant had requested that the discovery cutoff deadline be pushed back from August to February. But Walter didn’t want to go that far, saying that the “the lengthy extension of dates and deadlines proposed by Plaintiff are not necessary” and settled on Nov. 29 instead.

The judge also noted the county previously had agreed to move the evidence discovery deadline to February before changing its mind and opposing Bryant’s motion for more time.

“This straightforward case, with undisputed facts, has turned into a fishing expedition that is taking first responders away from their jobs — and subjecting them to public harassment and threats,” said a filing submitted in federal court in May by attorneys for the county.

Her attorneys had said they needed more time after they said they learned that misconduct by county employees “is both more expansive and more egregious than (Bryant) originally understood.” Her attorney, Luis Li, said in court filings last month that the photos made their way into the hands of "numerous County employees who had no involvement in investigating the accident."

"Defendants claim they are being victimized by Mrs. Bryant’s prosecution and public disclosure of this lawsuit," Bryant's attorney, Luis Li, said in court filing last month. "But Mrs. Bryant of course has every right to pursue discovery to find out how and why Sheriff’s Department personnel took and shared pictures of her daughter and husband’s remains."

Follow reporter Brent Schrotenboer @Schrotenboer. E-mail: bschrotenb@usatoday.com

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