Judge sets deadline for sheriff to answer questions on Zahau investigation

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SAN DIEGO – The case of Rebecca Zahau, whose nude body was found a decade ago hanging from a balcony at Coronado’s historic Spreckels Mansion, is back in the legal spotlight.

On Monday, a San Diego County Superior Court judge asked a series of questions of the county Sheriff’s Department into the way authorities conducted their investigation into Zahau’s death. Zahau, 32, died July 13, 2011 at the Coronado mansion of her millionaire boyfriend, Jonah Shacknai, an Arizona pharmaceutical company executive. Shacknai’s brother, Adam, later was found liable for Zahau’s death by a civil jury.

Zahau’s death was ruled a suicide by the department, but her family long has believed she was murdered.

In a four-page order, Judge Timothy Taylor said he wants to know if and when Sheriff Bill Gore released the complete investigative file on Zahau’s death. Zahau’s family contends Gore has not done so.

Taylor is asking the department to confirm if there were any additional California Public Records Act requests for the case files made by Zahau’s family members between October 2011 and April 2018 as well as between April 2018 and Jan. 25, 2019.

He also wants the department to address legal questions surrounding any privilege Gore was entitled to in terms of keeping parts of the investigation “confidential.”

The department must file a response to the questions by Nov. 22, according to Taylor.

“It would be most helpful to the court if these questions are answered in a straightforward manner, leaving argument to other portions of the briefing,” Taylor wrote.

Keith Greer, the lawyer representing Zahau’s family, argues the documents Gore’s department selectively disclosed only contain information that supports their finding that Zahau committed suicide. The family alleges the department violated state public records laws, which call for government agencies to release certain information to the public.

However, sheriff’s department lawyer Thomas Deak says the material being sought by Zahau’s family is exempt from disclosure. 

The parties are due back in court for another hearing on the merits of the Zahau family’s lawsuit in late January. That is when they are expected to find out if Taylor will allow them to see the files they’ve been seeking regarding Zahau’s death.

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