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Friday, May 24, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Coroner Reports Exempt Under Public Records Act

(CN) - A reporter is not entitled to view the autopsy report of a 1971 murder because investigatory files are exempt from the California Public Records Act, a state appeals court ruled.

Kathryn Dixon covered the trial of Phillip Arthur Thompson in 2008. Prosecutors used DNA evidence to convict him of the murder of Elizabeth Cloer, whose bullet-riddled body was left in a field in El Dorado County.

Intending to write a book about the case, Dixon requested the autopsy report before Thompson's trial. That request was denied.

Dixon's request for a court order was also denied, as the judge ruled that the files were exempt from the CPRA for two reasons:

- the investigatory files involve "a definite prospect of criminal law enforcement," and

- the public's interest in nondisclosure outweighs its interest in disclosure.

Justice Davis of the 3rd District Court of Appeal upheld the lower court's ruling.

"The issue is whether the coroner, as part of his local agency duties, compiles investigatory files for law enforcement purposes," Davis wrote. "The answer is an emphatic yes."

David also rejected Dixon's claim that the lower court's ruling restricts her freedom of the press.

"The media has no greater right of access to public records than the general public," Davis ruled.

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