Two years ago Oceanside Blade-Tribune publisher Tom Missett filed suit against the City of Oceanside for refusing to release police documents regarding the closed investigation of student/teacher indiscretions at Oceanside High. Superior Court Judge Larry Kapiloff refused to release the police report, indicating that it had been instigated by a police officer, not a private citizen, and as such was exempt from disclosure under provisions of the California Public Records Act. Missett appealed. In late November of last year the Fourth District County of Appeals reversed Kapiloff's 1982 ruling.
The City of Oceanside, of course, appealed to the state supreme court. Two weeks ago the court refused to hear the city's case, thus ratifying the court of appeals' initial decision. The state supreme court's decision will have a direct impact on the state's newspapers. According to Bill Furlow, assistant to the editor at the Los Angeles Times, "Police reports have always been difficult for us to gain access to, even after a case has been closed. It's not just a minor victory for the Blade-Tribune, it's going to help all of us." Terry Francke of the California Newspaper Publishers Association in Sacramento says that the
victory for the newspaper means that any investigative material whose release would not cause any harm to the investigation itself or anyone involved therein may be released to the public. In the Oceanside case, publisher Missett was not interested in the defendant per se; rather, he was seeking to find out why the police and school board had behaved they way they did. The supreme court's decision, Francke says, will aid the press in presenting a clearer picture of how public agencies function, how and why policy is executed, and the manner in which public officials use their discretion with investigative information.