Judge tentatively rules Zahau family may not depose former Sheriff Bill Gore
A judge has tentatively ruled that the family of Rebecca Zahau, whose bound and nude body was found hanging from a balcony at a historic Coronado mansion more than a decade ago, may not depose former San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore regarding information allegedly withheld from the public.
The ruling stems from a public records lawsuit filed by Zahau's family seeking the department's investigatory records into the death, which sheriff's officials twice concluded was a suicide.
Zahau was found July 13, 2011, hanging by her neck above a rear courtyard at her boyfriend's beachfront summer home. She was gagged, with her ankles bound and her wrists tied behind her back.
Though never criminally charged, Adam Shacknai, the brother of Zahau's boyfriend, was found liable in her death by a San Diego civil jury, which awarded Zahau's family more than $5 million in damages.
Zahau's family contends that Shacknai murdered her, possibly in retaliation for the death of his 6-year-old nephew Max, who suffered an ultimately fatal fall while in Zahau's care, days before she was found dead. In 2019, Zahau's family announced it would offer a $100,000 reward for anyone offering new information that could lead to Shacknai's arrest and conviction.
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In the latest suit, the Zahau family's attorney, Keith Greer, alleges the sheriff's department selectively disclosed their investigatory files to the public, while withholding information in violation of the California Public Records Act. County attorneys have argued the information Zahau's family seeks, including Gore's instructions to an independent panel of investigators who reexamined the case in 2018, are exempt from disclosure under the CPRA.
On Friday, Greer said the family sought to depose Gore regarding what instructions he may have given to his subordinates. Greer said the questions would center on instructions related to the investigation itself, as well as instructions regarding what information was approved for public disclosure at the department's press conferences and in its press releases.
In a tentative ruling issued Thursday, San Diego Superior Court Judge Timothy Taylor wrote that Zahau's family had not shown the sheriff's department is obligated to share those records or that it's appropriate to depose Gore.
During oral arguments heard Friday, Greer said that in seeking records regarding what information could be publicly disclosed, the family's position was that the information shared with the public was "a charade." Outside court, Greer called the 2018 re-examination of the case "a sham" that was undertaken "for political purposes to make it look like he was doing an investigation."
Taylor said the issues Greer hinted at regarding potential corruption are "an ultimately political question and not one that the CPRA is designed to address."
The judge took the matter under submission following Friday's arguments. Another hearing is set for July regarding the merits of the family's case.