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Judge releases search warrant records in murder case

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  1. Court Access

    NMU         CALIFORNIA         Secret Courts         Nov 5, 2002    

Judge releases search warrant records in murder case

  • California prosecutors turn over documents after newspaper petitions for access.

Two days after The Bakersfield Californian petitioned for access to sealed search warrant records in the murder case of Stephen M. Tauzer, prosecutors released the documents Oct. 30.

Chris Hillis, a former Kern County district attorney investigator, is accused of murdering Tauzer, a Kern County assistant district attorney.

Superior Court Judge Charles P. McNutt signed six search warrants, including one for Hillis’ home, and ordered them automatically sealed without a hearing. Even McNutt’s sealing order was filed under seal — making the entire proceedings a secret matter.

“You have the second leading, highest ranking prosecutor in the county murdered in his own home . . . if that’s not prosecuted in the open, the public will have no confidence that any prosecution will be competently handled,” said Thomas R. Burke, counsel for the Californian.

Under California law, judicial records, including search warrants, are “presumptively open and cannot be sealed absent specific, on-the-record findings that there is an overriding interest that overcomes the right of public access to the records.”

Because prosecutors relinquished the search warrant records, no hearing will be held to determine whether the court failed to comply with the standards for sealing these records. The hearing for access was originally set for Nov. 8.

(People v. Hillis; Media counsel: Thomas R. Burke, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, San Francisco) ST

© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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