MOORLACH UPDATE — Expensive Legal Matter — January 14, 2014

I prodded County Counsel on all of my constitutional concerns, but when you have County Counsel, the District Attorney, and Supervisor Nelson (who is also an attorney) all claim that this ordinance passes muster, its difficult for this C.P.A. to object. All I could do is issue a word of caution and hope that this ordinance does not become an expensive legal matter for the County. This is what I wrote in my UPDATE of April 6, 2011 (see MOORLACH UPDATE Sex Offenders April 6, 2011 or https://johnmoorlach.wordpress.com/2011/04/06/moorlach-update-sex-offenders-april-6-2011/). Well, it looks like barring registered sex offenders from County parks has become an expensive legal matter. The OC Register provides an update on a recent legal setback on the ordinance and what may occur next in the article below. It is my understanding that the decision to move forward on this matter will be made by the District Attorney and not the Board of Supervisors.

D.A. to take sex-offender fight to state high court

Appeals court struck down Irvine law barring such offenders from city parks.

BY CLAUDIA KOERNER, MIKE REICHER AND ROXANA KOPETMAN

The Orange County District Attorneys Office plans to go to the California Supreme Court to defend local ordinances that ban registered sex offenders from city parks.

A state appeals court on Friday struck down an Irvine law that barred registered sex offenders from city parks without written permission from police, a ruling that will become legal precedent. The court also struck down a similar Orange County law.

About a dozen other Orange County cities passed similar ordinances banning sex offenders from parks at the urging of District Attorney Tony Rackauckas. Rackauckas helped craft Orange Countys law with county Supervisor Shawn Nelson.

Protecting children from dangerous sex offenders is an ongoing war, and we believe that its one of the most important jobs we have at the District Attorneys Office, said Susan Kang Schroeder, Rackauckas chief of staff.

Janice Bellucci, president of California Reform Sex Offender Laws, said of the pending appeal. I think theyre foolish to do it. Theyre wasting taxpayer money.

Bellucci said her organization will urge Orange County cities that adopted similar legislation to pull the laws off their books or face a lawsuit. Opponents criticize the ordinances as overly broad and an infringement on civil rights. They are unenforceable, Bellucci said.

These ordinances give a false sense of security to parents. They dont really protect their children from those who are most likely to assault their children, Bellucci said.

County supervisors expressed varying degrees of support for an appeal. Todd Spitzer said it would be irresponsible to not appeal. John Moorlach said hes not comfortable appealing. And Nelson said he would be open to the idea.

COUNTY SET TREND

The Orange County ordinance, which became a model for local cities, made it a misdemeanor for any registered sex offender to enter a county park, beach or other recreational area without permission from the Orange County Sheriffs Department. Those convicted would face six months in jail or a $500 fine.

In Fridays ruling, a panel of judges said state laws regulating sex offenders preempt any local ordinances. State law has long overseen sex-offender registration, the opinion said.

State law already regulates where sex offenders may live and also identifies certain sex offenders who must be monitored by law enforcement via GPS. Offenders whose victims were younger than 14 may only enter parks where children gather with permission from their parole agents.

The laws create a comprehensive system regulating sex offenders daily lives, the court said. No outright ban on sex offenders in parks is included in state law, an omission that manifests a legislative determination that such a ban is not warranted, the court said. Any such local laws undermine the decisions of the Legislature, the court said.

COURT CASES

In the Irvine case, Jean Pierre Nguyen was taken into custody in 2012 after he went to Citrus Glen Park to play tennis. The Garden Grove resident, convicted of child annoyance in 1996 and on probation for indecent exposure, often visited the park.

In the Orange County case, the court reversed the conviction of Hugo Godinez, a registered sex offender who was arrested at Mile Square Regional Park in Fountain Valley in 2011.

WHATS NEXT

Cities now have to decide their next step.

Cities such as Mission Viejo and Laguna Hills have held off enforcement pending a court ruling and are now planning to await a Supreme Court decision if the district attorney proceeds with an appeal to the states highest court.

Irvine police wont enforce the ordinance pending the appeal, Irvine police spokeswoman Julia Engen said.

Cypress, meanwhile, is working to negotiate settlements in two lawsuits filed by registered sex offenders. A 2012 Cypress law bars sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school, park or child care center and from appearing within 500 feet of any school, park or child care center.

In Costa Mesa, Councilwoman Wendy Leece said the city will likely repeal that communitys law.

Its a disappointment, but its not the end of the world, she said. I think parents today need to take more responsibility for watching their kids all the time.

About 90 percent of child victims of sexual offenses know the offender, almost half of whom are family members, according to the state attorney general. Even with those statistics, its important to protect children from strangers, Schroeder said.

Staff writers Sarah de Crescenzo, Rebecca Kheel, Eric Hartley, Megan Nicolai, Kim Pierceall and Mona Shadia contributed to this report.

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