PUBLIC INFORMATION -- Coroner and autopsy reports from suspected homicide deaths are exempt from disclosure under California’s Public Records Act, the Third District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday. As reported in the Metropolitan News-Enterprise in Los Angeles:

Reasoning that the reports present a concrete and definite prospect of criminal law enforcement proceedings, the court rejected a former-California-attorney-turned-publisher’s request for records relating to a Sacramento woman whose bullet-riddled body was found in an open El Dorado County field in 1971. 
    Phillip Arthur Thompson was convicted in 2008 of the murder of Elizabeth Cloer after a 2003 analysis of DNA left at the scene tied him to the crime.
A news reporter who covered the proceedings—Kathryn J. Dixon . . .requested the complete coroner and autopsy reports prior to trial in anticipation of writing a book, but the El Dorado County sheriff-coroner denied the request.
    Dixon then sought a writ of mandate compelling the reports’ release, but El Dorado Superior Court Judge Daniel B. Proud denied the petition after an in camera review of the reports.
    Proud ruled not only that the reports were exempt under Government Code Sec. 6254(f) as “investigatory files of a local agency for law enforcement purposes which involve a definite prospect of criminal law enforcement,” but that the public interest in nondisclosure clearly outweighed the public interest in disclosure under Sec. 6255.
    On appeal, Dixon argued that the Sec. 6254(f) exemption did not legally extend to coroner and autopsy reports and maintained that Proud’s ruling unconstitutionally restricted freedom of the press, but Justice Rodney Davis swept aside both arguments.
    “[O]fficially inquiring into and determining the circumstances, manner and cause of a criminally-related death is certainly part of law enforcement investigation,” he commented.