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Zahau Family Quits Public Records Suit; Judge Siding with Sheriff’s Department


Coronado San Diego Sheriff Shacknai
Nearly 11 years after the death of Rebecca Zahau in Coronado, true crime buffs still debate her case. Image via ABC News on YouTube.com

With little fanfare, the family of Rebecca Zahau has given up its two-year pursuit of Sheriff’s Department data in her mysterious Coronado mansion death, which drew massive interest.

Judge Timothy Taylor’s tentative ruling on Zahau family’s CPRA suit. (PDF)

The agency sticks to its guns: The 32-year-old woman committed suicide while bound, naked and gagged — despite a civil jury’s finding of homicide.

In any case, Superior Court Judge Timothy Taylor is expected to signal an end to a lawsuit Friday.

In a tentative ruling posted Wednesday, Taylor rejects a request by Pari Zahau (Rebecca’s mother) and Mary Zahau-Loehner and Douglas Loehner (sister and brother-in-law) for all investigative records in the sensational 2011 case.

“By failing to file a merits brief and failing to address the questions the court ordered [the Zahau family] to address, petitioners have failed to carry their burden to establish a violation of the CPRA by the county,” Taylor wrote.

The family in July 2020 sued the Sheriff’s Department and former Sheriff Bill Gore under the California Public Records Act, but the county is prevailing in the argument that such records are exempt from release.

On June 27, however, Zahau lawyer Keith Greer filed paperwork seeking dismissal of the case.

That would have made the 1:30 p.m. “merits hearing” Friday moot — and therefore canceled the court date.

But Taylor said his clerk rejected the dismissal request, calling the two-page filing “defective.” (Among other things, Greer didn’t fill out certain sections and didn’t even sign the document.)

Greer and Douglas Loehner didn’t respond to requests for comment.

In his three-page tentative ruling, Taylor listed a dozen questions he had asked the Zahaus to answer in the “merits brief.”

June 27 request by Zahau family to dismiss its lawsuit. (PDF)

But: “The court received no merits briefs,” Taylor wrote.

On March 25, Taylor told both sides: “We seem to bog down in various demurrer, demurrer to the answer, discovery disputes. I mean: Let’s just get it on and get the issue resolved for the well-being of this family and so that the [current] sheriff can leave office well aware of the rules.”

Greer said he sought the extra material to “put more meat on the bones” of his case that certain files should be disclosed — and not withheld under CPRA’s “investigations” exemption.

At that hearing, county counsel Thomas Deák said: “Mr. Greer wants to prosecute some kind of corruption case here, and this is a Public Records Act request. He needs to find another cause of action.”

That led Judge Taylor to say the Zahaus’ concern was “ultimately a political question: Did someone miscarry their responsibilities in office? It’s not the subject matter of the CPRA … a focused, narrow, statutory framework.”

Greer responded: “I think the documents we’re looking for here belong in that public disclosure area. They don’t interfere with the investigations itself or thought processes of the officers. We’re looking at what was disclosed to the public and … did the documentation show the public official was telling the truth or did they lie?”

On July 13, 2011, Zahau was found hanging by her neck above a rear courtyard at her boyfriend’s beachfront summer home in Coronado. 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.

Outside court in March, 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.”

Asked for a reaction to the Zahaus’ dismissal request, a sheriff’s spokesman Wednesday said: “We have no further information to provide on this.”


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