A tentative ruling in a lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Department and Sheriff Bill Gore, seeking investigative records in the 2011 Coronado death of Rebecca Zahau, favors her family and puts the county on the hot seat.
The ruling posted Wednesday by Judge Timothy Taylor isn’t final until after a hearing Friday, but it gives Zahau’s family hope it may prevail on its California Public Records Act requests.
In overruling a demurrer by San Diego County, Taylor notes: “[The Zahaus] have alleged that the instructions given by Sheriff Gore to the independent panel of officers are not protected” from disclosure as Gore contends.
“These facts – which the court must liberally construe and accept as true – are sufficient to state a claim under the CPRA. Whether the requested information is, in fact, exempt from disclosure … is a factual issue that cannot be resolved on this limited record,” Taylor wrote
Therefore, he said, “the court declines at this time to address the parties’ remaining contentions regarding waiver.” The Zahaus’ revised lawsuit “therefore survives demurrer.”
Taylor ordered the county to answer the Superior Court lawsuit by Nov. 22.
“The court stresses the narrowness of this ruling,” he added. “The merits hearing remains on calendar for January 28, 2022.”
C. Keith Greer, lawyer for the mother, sister and brother-in-law of the dead woman, said expects any verdict in the case to be appealed.
Greer and a county attorney didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Former sheriff’s Cmdr. David Myers, running a second time for county sheriff, hailed Taylor’s tentative ruling as a “positive step towards forcing sheriff’s leadership to disclose all the information about Rebecca Zahau’s death.”
“For 10 years now, sheriff leadership has publicly promised transparency, but behind the scenes has been desperately trying to prevent Ms. Zahau’s family from obtaining all of the information surrounding her death,” he said via email. “It does make you wonder what it is that sheriff leadership is trying to hide.”
Myers says he’s met often with Zahau’s family and has been very supportive.
“There are still many questions that they don’t believe sheriff leadership has been open and honest with them about, and the only way to get at the full and complete truth is for Sheriff leadership to step up and do the right thing rather than cowering behind some sort of investigatory police privilege,” he said.
Undersheriff Kelly Martinez, Myers’ main rival to replace retiring Sheriff Gore, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Updated at 4:51 p.m. Nov. 10, 2021