Photos of Dead People, Dog Parks and Redundancy

Gov. Jerry Brown has signed legislation to reassure coroners that they’re shielded from liability if Californians see illegal copies of photographs or images of dead people.

The bill — AB 957 by Assemblyman Don Wagner, an Irvine Republican –only reassures because coroners have been protected from liability for someone else copying or leaking official corners’ photographs since 1968.

Analyses of the bill from both Senate and Assembly committees politely say the measure “clarifies” existing law.

Assemblyman Don Wagner

Assemblyman Don Wagner

Wagner’s bill is just one of a number of unnecessary new laws the Democratic governor will sign between now and October 14 – his final day to act on the hundreds of measures lawmakers send him before they adjourn on September 13.

Just one example of another unneeded bill is AB 265 by Assemblyman Mike Gatto. Despite the long-standing California Tort Claims Act which shields local government activities form liability, the Burbank Democrat is carrying a bill that says dog parks are part of that list of shielded activities.

“Providing express immunity from liability – even if such immunity is already provided by the general governmental immunity statute – will give local public entities additional comfort,” says the Assembly Judiciary Committee’s analysis in defense of Gatto’s bill – and others like it.

Such measures are common in politics as a demonstration of a lawmaker’s responsiveness to a constituent need.

 Governors routinely sign them because they get a chit they can use when they need a favor from the bill’s author and, at worst, such bills merely further clutter the state’s code books.

The California State Coroners Association justifies the bill Wagner carried on their behalf this way:

“With the increase in social media and the immediate nature of posting media and making it available to millions of people almost instantly, coroners are concerned about the liability of properly released coroner case photos that  subsequently end up on websites or in the public arena for purposes other than originally intended as a result of hacking, illegal sales of such photographs or the careless  custody of such photographs by individuals or agencies who the coroner originally released the photos to.

“These instances have resulted in court cases brought against coroners, and although it ended in summary judgment in favor of the department, it cost significant time, money, and staff resources from the county to address these legal matters.”

Says the Assembly Judiciary Committee of Wagner’s bill:images-1

“Existing law does not appear to impose liability on coroners for acts taken by another after the lawful release of the images by the coroner. Nevertheless, the coroners believe the point may potentially be in doubt and the bill would therefore appear to be an appropriate clarification. 

“The bill would also make clear that dissemination of images is covered by the law, a point that is arguably implicit in the prohibition against reproduction but which it may be helpful to state explicitly.”

In the Senate Judiciary Committee, the analysis quotes AB 4, the 1968 law authored by then Assemblyman Fred Bear, a San Diego Democrat, and Assembly Speaker Jesse Unruh that created the protection from liability coroners enjoyed before
Wagner’s bill.

“The reproduction, for unrelated and improper purposes, of any photograph of the body of a deceased person taken in the course of a post mortem examination or autopsy is contrary” to protecting “individuals and families against unconscionable invasions of their privacy.”

Mirroring the Assembly committee’s conclusions, the Senate committee analysis wonders how a coroner could be held liable when it’s another party who illegally copies or disseminates photographs taken by the coroner:

“As a result, this bill would appear to merely add clarity to existing law as opposed to relieving a coroner of liability that may otherwise exist.”

Lawmakers have also approved Gatto’s dog park bill.






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