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Defendants in Kobe Bryant lawsuit want case moved out of Los Angeles

Attorney for helicopter pilot says there are too many Lakers fans, will make for unfair trial in L.A.
Fans gather near a makeshift memorial to mourn the death of NBA star Kobe Bryant in LA Live Plaza outside Staples Center on Jan. 29, 2020, in Los Angeles.Robyn Beck / AFP - Getty Images fike

LOS ANGELES — Lawyers for the helicopter pilot being sued by Kobe Bryant's widow asked that her lawsuit be moved out of Los Angeles, claiming the defense can't get a fair trial in the Lakers backyard.

Vanessa Bryant has filed a wrongful death action in Los Angeles Superior Court, accusing Island Express Helicopters and late pilot Ara Zobayan of being responsible for the crash that killed the recently retired basketball great, 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and six other passengers.

"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," according to the motion filed by defense lawyer Arthur Willner, who represents Berge Zobayan, listed as successor in interest for pilot late Ara Zobayan,

"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."

The defense wants the case moved to neighboring suburb of Orange County.

Even though the bedroom community is in the same television market as Los Angeles and the passengers all lived in Orange County, Willner insisted a fair trial cannot happen in L.A. County.

"I don't think it's a matter of less knowledge" about the case, Willner told NBC News on Monday,

"Clearly Kobe's popularity extends far beyond Los Angeles. But there's no escaping the fact of the high regard in which Kobe was held in Los Angeles For many years he was the face of Los Angeles to a large extent."

A lawyer for Vanessa Bryant said the defense request has no merit.

“We believe that this request to transfer venue out of Los Angeles County has no basis in law or fact," Bryant's attorney Gary C. Robb said in a statement. "We will vigorously oppose it.”

Eric Leonard reported from Los Angeles and David K. Li from New York.