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California Courts Have No Inherent Authority to Disclose Grand Jury Evidence

The California Supreme Court held that California courts do not have inherent authority to order disclosure of grand jury materials to private litigants.

In 1979, Thomas Lee Goldstein, an engineering student and Marine Corps veteran, became a murder suspect when an eyewitness saw the gunman enter his apartment building.

Goldstein did not have a criminal record and no witness or forensic evidence tied him to the victim. Although he did not match the suspect description provided by eyewitness Loran Campbell, Long Beach detectives showed Goldstein's photograph to Campbell and pressed him to identify Goldstein as the person he saw run from the scene. Campbell said it was possible but he couldn't be sure.

Goldstein was arrested and placed in a cell with heroin addict and convicted felon Edward Floyd Fink. Of course, Fink later testified that Goldstein told him that he shot a man in a dispute over money. Fink claimed that he did not receive a benefit for his testimony and Goldstein was convicted of murder in 1980.

In 1990, the Los Angeles Grand Jury concluded a two-year investigation into the use of jailhouse informants in the preceding 10 years. "The grand jury found that the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office had demonstrated a 'deliberate and informed declination to take the action necessary to curtail the misuse of jailhouse informant testimony.'"

Goldstein obtained a copy of the Grand Jury's report and filed a federal habeas corpus action. In August 2002, Campbell recanted his identification of Goldstein, admitting that he had been over anxious to help police. Goldstein also established that Fink had received benefits for testifying. The court vacated Goldstein's conviction, finding that "Fink fits the profile of the dishonest jailhouse informant that the Grand Jury Report found to be highly active in Los Angeles County. In 2003. Goldstein was released after 24 years in prison.

In November 2004, Goldstein brought federal suit against several Los Angeles City and County Defendants. Since the Grand Jury's evidence had been sealed, Goldstein sought the evidence upon which the Grand Jury Report was premised. The state court refused to disclose the evidence, concluding that California Penal Code Sections 924.2, 929 and 939.1, did not authorize disclosure.

The California Court of Appeals agreed that the statute did not authorize disclosure. However, despite a lack of briefing by any party, the appellate court held that California law permitted the Superior Court to exercise its inherent authority to disclose the evidence to prevent injustice in a particular case.

The California Supreme Court reversed, noting that "the law regarding disclosure of evidentiary materials gathered by a grand jury was comprehensively analyzed in" Daily Journal Corp. v. Superior Court, 20 Cal 4th 1117 (1999) and McClatchy Newspapers v. Superior Court, 44 Cal 3d 1162 (1988).

The Court rejected Goldstein's argument "that the Court of Appeals properly distinguished McClatchy and Daily Journal on the basis that they involved disclosures to the public, rather than to a private litigant." It also held that courts do not have broad inherent authority to release grand jury materials, finding that if that were true, "there would be no need for the statutes permitting disclosure in limited circumstances." Such inherent authority "would also pull the teeth from the statutory limitations."

Finally, the Court held that "the Court of Appeals erred in holding that section 924.2 does not apply to Goldstein's request for disclosure." The Court also noted that "the Grand Jury conceded that the federal court could compel disclosure if circumstances justified it." The Court appeared to agree, observing that Goldstein is of course, free to renew his attempt to obtain discovery by federal subpoena." It left "for the superior court and federal district court ... to sort out additional procedures for providing Goldstein with access to the testimony of grand jury witnesses under section 924.2." See: Goldstein v. The Superior Court of Los Angeles County, 65 Cal.Rptr.3d 90 (2007), 154 Cal.App.4th 482.

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Related legal cases

Goldstein v. The Superior Court of Los Angeles County

Daily Journal Corp. v. Superior Court

McClatchy Newspapers v. Superior Court