In court Friday, Zahau family lawyer Keith Greer called Sheriff Bill Gore a liar. In January, a judge is set to hear arguments on whether to reveal records on whether that slur is true.
Judge Timothy Taylor on Monday rejected a county effort to derail a lawsuit filed by the mother, sister and brother-in-law of Rebecca Zahau, whose mysterious death at a Coronado mansion fed vast public interest.
By overruling the county demurrer, Superior Court Judge Taylor allowed the Zahau family to continue pursuing public records in the case deemed a suicide by the Sheriff’s Department and a homicide by a civil jury.
But at Friday’s hearing and in his four-page order, Taylor cut neither side any slack.
At one point, he told county attorney Thomas Deák to “stop right there.”
Taylor asked if Deák could cite any case law that says directives on how to conduct an investigation or what to investigate constitute records of an investigation.
Deák replied: “Your honor, I did not find that case.” (But he argued that the “plain language” of the California Public Records Act suggests a sheriff’s instructions to investigators can be withheld — kept secret.)
Later, Taylor grilled Zahau attorney Greer:
“What information am I gonna get in the briefing between now and January that I don’t have right now?” he asked.
Greer said he’d take depositions of sheriff’s officers on how they handle investigative files, “and we’ll have expert testimony (on what) is considered part of the investigatory file.”
When Greer suggested that such information might be reviewed first “in camera” — private, outside the public’s view — Taylor again halted arguments.
“Hold on,” Taylor said. “Where does it say I get to do an in-camera review?
Greer said he’d need to compose a legal brief on the issue.
That’s not the only item Greer will have to address.
In his order, Taylor posed tough questions — 11 all together — to both sides.
- Does the Zahau family contend that something less than the “entire” or “complete” investigative file was released? Does the county concede that any portion of the 2011 investigative file was withheld?
- Does the CPRA require Sheriff Gore to prepare a “privilege log” of investigative files he can’t disclose?
- “Assuming there is no such requirement in the CPRA, should a court be free to impose such a requirement?” Taylor wrote. “Or should the court conclude that because the Legislature knows how to impose such a requirement and chose not to do so in the CPRA context, there is no such requirement?”
- Was the creation of a “panel review” of the Zahau case done verbally or in writing?
- Are instructions like Gore’s to subordinates “law enforcement investigatory records? Or the reverse?”
Taylor ended: “It will be most helpful to the court if these questions are answered in a straightforward manner, leaving argument to other portions of the briefing.” The county has until Nov. 22 to answer the Zahau family suit.
In court, Greer said Gore (who was not present) “lied to the public and he lied to the family” that he would have a panel review the Zahau investigation after the civil verdict found Adam Shacknai (brother of Zahau’s boyfriend) liable for the young woman’s death. “He told his officers one thing and the public another thing.”
A hearing set for Jan. 28 won’t be drama-free, either.
In court, Deák vowed to “vociferously” object to letting expert witnesses come in to “interpret the law. That’s not going to be permitted.”
And if depositions and other legal discovery means working over Thanksgiving and the Christmas holidays, “we’re going to be back in here asking for a continuance,” Deák said. “I don’t know why this hasn’t been going on all summer.”
Taylor said he’d “deal with that when it becomes an actual problem.”
Meanwhile, a minor mystery was resolved about county lawyer Deák’s Zoom session background Friday — which included a logo from My Chemical Romance and posters of rock groups Pierce the Veil and Black Veil Brides. Was he a fan?
On Tuesday, Deák told Times of San Diego: “My daughter is a big fan of those bands. I don’t have a home office, and it is a quiet room with a good desk, so I sometimes appear remotely from her room while blurring the background.”