BY CHRIS BUMBACA
For nearly two decades, Kobe Bryant was a Los Angeles icon. He remains so even after his death in a Jan. 26 helicopter crash that took the life of eight others, including his 13-year-old daughter Gianna.
Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court against the estate of pilot Ara Zobayan and the helicopter company, Island Express Helicopters, on Feb. 24 — the day of Kobe and Gianna’s public memorial at the Staples Center.
On Friday, according to court documents obtained by USA TODAY Sports, lawyers representing the Zobayan estate filed a motion to move the trial from Los Angeles to Orange County (or elsewhere), where the defense team believes a fairer trial can take place, despite its close proximity to LA. All of the victims of the crash resided in Orange County.
“Although Bryant had a home in Orange County, the level of Laker fan following does not even approach what exists in Los Angeles County and would provide a much more fair and impartial jury pool,” the motion, filed by Zobayan attorney Arthur Willner, said. “Since the other plaintiffs all lived in Orange County, they will not be provided any less favorable a jury pool.”
Willner also argued “no reasonable person can argue that an average juror will view with dispassion the claims of the Bryant family in comparison to the defenses presented by the estate of the pilot.
“No cogent argument can be asserted that the estate of the pilot, whom the Bryant family asserts was the cause of the death of Mr. Bryant, will not begin trial with the proverbial ‘two strikes’ already against him due to the extreme level of popularity of plaintiff with the jury pool.”
A lawyer for Vanessa Bryant, Gary C. Robb, told NBC News the request to move the trial is meritless.
“We believe that this request to transfer venue out of Los Angeles County has no basis in law or fact,” Robb told NBC News in a statement. “We will vigorously oppose it.”
The National Transportation Safety Board released approximately 1,700 pages of documents related to the investigation of the crash last week, with analysis and conclusions coming at a later date.
The motion acknowledged the rareness of moving a trial for a civil lawsuit, but included 13 published articles as evidence of Bryant’s popularity in Los Angeles.