Editorial: Judge in Vanessa Bryant Case Issues Offensive & Inhumane Ruling
Vanessa Bryant, the widow of Kobe Bryant is justifiably suing LA County after people employed by and affiliated with its Sheriff’s Department callously photographed remains of her husband, Lakers & NBA Legend Kobe Bryant and her young daughter Gianna. The two were tragically killed in a horrific helicopter crash that devastated the nation.
One of the major claims in Bryant’s lawsuit is invasion of privacy for the pictures that were taken of her loved ones remains by officials at the scene who were supposed to not only be acting professionally but have an ounce of compassion, and clearly did not. The photos were allegedly shared ad nauseam including at an awards ceremony.
LA County is despicably fighting her claims by ridiculously saying that her emotional distress did not come from the taking and sharing of photos but instead from the loss of her husband and daughter. Obviously, she was distressed and distraught over both and to try to quantify how much of her distress was attributable to each or separate the two in any identifiable way is a futile effort and an inhumane exercise. A jury does not need a court of law or an attorney to convey so much.
Just when the case couldn’t have become more cruel and cold, the Judge in the case decided today to entertain LA County’s ludicrous assertion. Who would ever believe that Bryant was not emotionally distressed over the sensationalism of pictures of her loved ones remains being used in show and tells by first responders? One of them reportedly used the crash scene pictures to try to pick up a girl at a bar.
The Judge shockingly ordered Bryant to hand over her private therapy records to prove it. As a result, now LA County can try to use her grief to again invade her privacy, exploit her family, and compound her emotional distress. Now LA County attorneys will have carte blanche to make legal arguments that her therapy sessions prove she wasn’t upset that her loved ones remains were photographed and distributed without authorization. This is a losing argument no matter how you slice it. They apparently do not have a shred of human consideration for the pain and suffering of a now single mother.
In an ironic twist, this is an invasion of privacy case and a Judge just ordered Bryant’s private therapy session records over to LA County, using his authority to actually invade her privacy yet again. He is putting her medical records and grief sessions on display to be seen and manipulated by the very people who exploited her family to begin with.
Even more outrageous is that the Judge is requiring Bryant to hand over her records dating back to 2017, almost three years before the January, 2020 crash. LA County audaciously wanted her therapy records dating back to 2010, so it can scrutinize and attack her mental state. The Judge’s justification that the ruling is “narrow” still does not explain why records from three years prior to the crash are even relevant to prove that pictures distributed by first responders caused her emotional distress. The only purpose of having those records from before the crash would be to invade her privacy, intimidate her into a settlement and attempt to character assassinate her credibility using her mental state. The Judge’s reasoning does little to soften the blow of a ruling that offends the human conscience.
First of all, this should be a HIPAA violation on its face. HIPAA protects patient medical records. Furthermore, therapy records are actually provided an extra layer of special protection under Privacy Rules because of their highly sensitive nature. Consider the potential effects of taking a vulnerable person under medical care for mental health and putting their most private thoughts and feelings on display. The ruling alone will likely cause more emotional distress.
The County and the Judge are claiming Bryant waived her privacy rights when it comes to HIPAA protections for medical information by filing a claim for emotional distress and opened the door to discovery of her therapy notes. They are making the argument that it is common to bring in such therapy notes in emotional distress claims and celebrities should receive no such exception.
While it is true that the moment one places emotional state at issue in a court case, the other side can make the argument that therapy sessions become relevant evidence, such records are not necessary in my opinion. They are an invasion of privacy unwarranted when testimony from the person and possibly even a mental health professional or a new evaluation would suffice.
The Judge’s cold, clinical view may not be entirely wrong but in this context it’s laughable. No reasonable person needs to see or hear about her private therapy sessions to know that pictures of the remains of her family being distributed by the very people who arrived on scene to try to help them would cause extreme emotional distress to anyone. Even more so, the pain and suffering are potentially heightened when you are a celebrity whose life is on display as a money grab to the celebrity obsessed and insensitive media that turns tragedy into entertainment.
Just because something has occurred in legal cases before, doesn’t mean it is right or that such a dysfunctional invasion of privacy should be enforced and perpetuated at the expense of the very people turning to the legal system for Justice. What kind of people would even want to use a court of law to weaponize a grieving mother and widow’s most private thoughts and feelings against her?
Common sense was turned on its head with this ruling and LA County & the Judge should be ashamed of themselves. Hopefully Vanessa Bryant fights this, as she has all along and League of Justice is here to help, support and give her an open forum for her DEFENSE in this horrific battle she has to endure.