The lawyers and judge involved in the Gardner case agree that it involves the first court test of Marsy's Law -- the so-called Victims' Bill of Rights passed by California voters in the November 2008 election.
On Thursday, it appeared that the test case was trumped by the First Amendment right of a free press. It's not clear whether the ruling will be appealed.
Thursday's court room maneuvering involved a pre-emptive motion by the family of murdered Poway teenager Chelsea King, with their lawyer citing a danger that they would suffer devastating psychic damage if some information gathered by law enforcement officials was released.
Judge David Danielson refused the family's request to prohibit any public agency from distributing any photos or reports about Chelsea's death, citing the U.S. and state constitutions. During the hearing, an attorney for the media stressed that no TV station or newspaper has asked for any photos and that the medical examiner does not, by practice, release any crime scene photos.
Under Marsy's Law -- named after a UC Santa Barbara student who was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend -- the families of victims have the right "to be treated with fairness and respect for his or her privacy and dignity." By extension, under that rationale, Chelsea has her own right to privacy and dignity in the aftermath of her death, as do murdered Escondido teen Amber Dubois and her parents, who would have also been covered by the protective, or "gag" order the Kings were seeking.
Danielson didn't -- and can't -- order the case files unsealed, so the decision to release the documents rests with the agencies involved in the investigation. For her part, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis has requested they follow her lead in maintaining the secrecy of the documents, regardless of media vows to treat the information with sensitivity in the event it is released.
"I think it's important to keep in mind that what you and I might think to be salacious, horrific, is perhaps completely different to what the families of the victims might feel," Deputy District Attorney Kristin Spieler said after Danielson lifted the gag order, "and perhaps something as insignificant -- a minor fact -- that no one would think would have an effect would have a tremendous fact on the families involved."
The phrase "common decency" echoed in this case. Attorneys for the victims' families had no comment after the judge's ruling as to whether they would take the "privacy and dignity" issue up on appeal.
NBCSanDiego has no interest in revealing any details about how Chelsea King or Amber Duboid died or showing any photos of their death. It will be consulting with its attorneys on how best to approach further inquiries with the authorities and what use to make of any material it eventually may receive.