Kobe Bryant's attorneys are telling him to be "cautiously optimistic" after lawyers for his 20-year-old accuser raised the possibility that she may not participate in the criminal case and instead pursue a civil one. "There's a long sigh of relief," says a close associate of the basketball star. The woman's attorneys have blasted the criminal court's handling of the case, saying inadvertent pretrial disclosures about her sex life have traumatized her and damaged the case. But while her chances are better in civil court, where the burden of proof is lower, she isn't likely to see the big payday her critics claim she's after: Colorado has strict caps on mon-etary awards for pain and suffering, and several attorneys tell NEWSWEEK that, at best, she'd receive $1.5 million--a fraction of the $5 million she was rumored to have been offered last summer (a rumor denied by Bryant's camp). But plenty of observers think the Laker, who has already spent $12 million in legal fees, would just as soon settle before proceeding to a civil case in which the woman's attorneys would depose him under oath, allowing for potentially embarrassing testimony. "Even if they did nothing wrong," says criminal defense lawyer Larry Pozner, "most successful people would rather write a check so they can get back to normal."

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