Accused Killer's Psych Transcripts Withheld
(CN) - Prosecutors and the media cannot access court transcripts related to the alleged mental illness of a man accused of killing his mother, a California appeals court ruled.
Monterey County tried to commit Christopher Sorenson in a pair of trials on his mental status under the Lanterman-Petris-Short (LPS) Act. Both attempts failed.
Sorenson's mother disappeared shortly after the second trial concluded in early December 2011, and police arrested Sorenson for her murder about a week later.
After Sorenson pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, the Monterey County District Attorney and the Salinas Californian asked for copies of the two LPS trials. The Monterey County Herald joined in, asking for transcripts of those two LPS proceedings, as well as six others regarding Sorensen.
A Monterey County judge trial granted the DA, the media and Sorensen himself access to the transcripts, but the San Jose-based Sixth Appellate District reversed Wednesday after framing the case as a battle between First Amendment freedom of the press, Sorensen's rights to privacy and doctor-patient privilege.
"We conclude that involuntary conservatorship proceedings under the LPS Act are not 'ordinary civil trials and proceedings' that are presumptively public," Justice Miguel Marquez wrote for a three-member panel. "Rather, they are special proceedings. But they are not special proceedings for which there is a qualified First Amendment right of public access."
Sorenson actually tried to dismiss this appeal before it was successful, but the appeals court refused "because this case presents issues of continuing public interest," Marquez noted.
"Furthermore, permitting LPS trials to be presumptively public - thereby making public any confidential communications between the proposed conservatee and his or her psychiatrists - would be antithetical to one of the legislative purposes of confidentiality under the LPS Act," he added.