Ronni Chasen Lawsuit: Judge Denies Records to Filmmaker
In a tentative decision announced Thursday morning, the court agreed with a documentarian’s “general premise” that he deserves access to murder investigation files, but noted he presented a “lack of evidence” to justify his case.
L.A. Superior Court denied an independent filmmaker access to the investigative files he had sought in a 13-month legal battle with the City of Beverly Hills and its police department as he pursues a documentary about the death of murdered publicist Ronni Chasen. Some believe that a fuller review might challenge the official explanation for the killing: a random robbery-gone-wrong by ex-convict Harold Martin Smith.
In a 14-page tentative decision, Judge James C. Chalfant noted that he "agrees" with Ryan Katzenbach's "general premise" that the filmmaker deserves access to at least some material, likely crime scene photos – particularly because the department had previously allowed a small-press book, Beverly Hills Confidential: A Century of Stars, Scandals and Murder, which discusses the case, to be co-authored and published by its senior forensic specialist Clark Fogg, who had worked the Chasen investigation. Yet Chalfant explained that Katzenbach "has not met his burden."
Specifically at issue for Chalfant was the fact that Katzenbach, who has acted throughout the proceedings as his own counsel to save on costs, had neglected to depose either Fogg or his co-author, journalist Barbara Schroeder, and through questioning demonstrate that the information he seeks could only have come from confidential investigatory files, not exclusively from publicly available information, as the two authors affirmed in their pretrial declarations.
In court, as Beverly Hills' defense attorney T. Peter Pierce looked on, the judge questioned the filmmaker about the decision. Katzenbach observed that he "thought the statements in the book were sufficient in themselves." (Beverly Hills Confidential features Fogg's own detailed analytical musings about the Chasen case.)
"I'm totally with you on the nature of your theory [that Katzenbach likely qualifies for at least some access in this situation]," the judge explained. "And I'm also with you that it looks suspicious that Schroeder and Fogg were favored [over you]. But you have to dot your I's and cross your T's. And depositions would have done it."
Chalfant continued, "What I'm thinking about is what rights you have to do this all over again. CPRA [California Public Records Act] rights can be renewed. I have no opinion on that. The reason I'm wondering is that if you had pinned Mr. Fogg down as wearing his book hat, I think you'd get him on that." Still, he explained to Katzenbach, at least for now, "you presented a viable theory but you didn't finish the work."
After he left Chalfant's courtroom, Katzenbach told The Hollywood Reporter, "[Beverly Hills] won today on a technicality." Will he appeal or re-file? "Both of those are viable options. But the one option I won't exercise is walking away."