A newspaper publisher filed suit against a coroner to prohibit him from closing to the public a scheduled inquest. The superior court directed that any such inquest be open to the public. The coroner appealed, insisting that an open inquest might compromise an ongoing criminal investigation.
1. Lumpkin, supra, arose out of a felony prosecution. There we held:
[A] Georgia trial court judge shall use jury sequestration (or some other means) to exclude prejudicial matters from the jury's knowledge and consideration unless for some reason fully articulated in his findings of fact and conclusions of law jury sequestration (or another remedy) would not adequately protect the defendant's right to a fair trial. [249 Ga. at p. 580.] At a coroner's inquest, there is no defendant. Nor is there a "trial," in the sense of an adversarial proceeding that is empowered to fix rights and duties, or to determine guilt and innocence. Hence, a coroner's inquest is not a "Georgia trial court," as contemplated by the rule in Lumpkin, supra. 2
2. The relief sought by the newspaper must be governed by the Open Meetings Law, OCGA 50-14-1
et seq., as that statute has been interpreted since its enactment. Additionally, the Open Records Law, OCGA 50-18-70
et seq., would apply to the office of coroner. Because the trial court has not had the opportunity to consider this case in the light of those statutes and of our interpretations of them, 3
the case must be remanded for further proceedings.
Jerome M. Rothschild, for appellee.