In People v. Superior Court (Smith), the Supreme Court today holds district attorneys and their experts are entitled to access otherwise confidential treatment records of alleged sexually violent predators who the district attorneys are seeking to civilly commit.  The court’s unanimous opinion by Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar relies on a post-grant-of-review statutory amendment, which the court holds is retroactive and does not violate equal protection principles.

The result is one that the Legislature probably intended, but not what it said in the recent revision of the statute.  So, the Supreme Court rescues the drafters.  The opinion is forced to use considerable ink explaining why it is not following the usual presumption that a word used in more than one provision of a statute has the same meaning throughout.  The court says, “Our interpretive task is not necessarily to slavishly assign a word precisely the same meaning every time it is used in a statute — regardless of the context — but to accord it the meaning best suited to effectuating the statute’s intended purpose.”

And that was just the first mess the court needed to clean up.  The statute is not at all clear whether district attorneys can share treatment records with their expert witnesses.  The new amendment included the proviso that the Legislature didn’t “intend[] to affect the determination by the Supreme Court of California, in” this case.  So the court was left to determine the expert-witness question despite being “unable to find another instance in which a statute included a provision declaring an intent not to influence the pending judicial resolution of the issue presented.”

The Legislature should give the Supreme Court overtime pay for this one.

The court affirms the Fourth District, Division Three, Court of Appeal.