Ten days after the 10th anniversary of Rebecca Zahau’s hanging death at the Spreckels Mansion in Coronado, a Superior Court judge will hold a hearing that could close the book on the widely debated tragedy.
At 1:30 p.m. July 23, Judge Timothy B. Taylor will hear a request from an attorney representing San Diego County and Sheriff Bill Gore to disqualify a demand for investigative records in the 2011 murder-or-suicide case.
Zahau’s sister, mother and brother-in-law filed suit last July under the California Public Records Act and Judge Taylor later set an Oct. 15 hearing on that request. Their aim: Glean info that could force a reopening of the case.
But that hearing may not take place if Thomas Deák of the County Counsel’s Office prevails in July. He represents Gore and the county — who have declared Zahau’s death a suicide.
In a notice of demurrer filed April 23, Deák says the records being sought by the Zahaus are exempt from disclosure under the CPRA.
And contrary to the Zahaus’ contention that “selective disclosures” mean all investigative records should be released, Deák says the law doesn’t work that way.
“The county has not used the investigatory files exemption as a ‘sword’ in this case because it has not placed any such files in issue,” Deák wrote, rebutting the Zahaus’ allegation that Gore used the investigatory files exemption as a “sword and shield.”
A demurrer isn’t the same as a dismissal motion. A demurrer merely tell the court that the allegations in the complaint do not provide legally sufficient reason for the defendant to be sued.
But if Taylor sustains the demurrer — and doesn’t allow the Zahaus to submit a new complaint — the case would likely be dismissed.
It wasn’t immediately known whether an appeal would be made. Keith Greer, the Zahaus’ attorney, didn’t respond to a request for comment made Thursday.
In a March 24 email to Deák, Greer said: “I cannot guarantee that we will not file an amended complaint to address any parts of the complaint that are inadequately pleaded.”
Greer also said: “While all of the requested documents relate to the sheriff’s handling of the Zahau matter, I don’t think that the documents in question can be narrowly defined as merely the ‘investigatory files and records.’”
In an April 6 email reply, Deak asked Greer: “Do you contend that any of the records your clients seek to obtain would not be exempt under § 6254(f) in the first instance, regardless whether the sheriff disclosed other records?”
According to The Appellate Law Firm, on appeal, the court would look only at the allegations made in the complaint to determine whether the trial court erred in deciding there was not sufficient information to sustain a cause of action against the defendant.
Greer appears to have high hopes for his chances, however — even looking at a possible book down the line.
On Tuesday, true-crime author Caitlin Rother said in a Zoom launch of her “Death on Ocean Boulevard” book tour — with almost 100 attending online — that Greer was planning a book on the same Zahau case.
On Wednesday, Greer told Times of San Diego: “Yes, I will also be writing a book in concert with Rebecca’s family once the investigation is reopened by the sheriff or another agency.”
He said he had no co-writer, agent or publisher yet.
“The book will include additional facts, evidence and behind the scenes events that the public and Ms. Rother were not privy to,” he said. “And yes, I have started reading Ms. Rother’s book.”