By Mike Harris
A federal lawsuit filed Friday seeks to block enforcement of Simi Valley's new Halloween sex offender ordinance, contending it is unconstitutional.
The lawsuit alleges that the ordinance violates the First and 14th Amendments because it "suppresses and unduly chills protected speech and expression."
The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles by five registered sex offenders, three of their spouses and two of their children, all Simi Valley residents. They are identified only as John and Jane Does.
It's the first time one of the Halloween sex offender laws passed by a number of California cities, including Ontario and Orange, has been challenged in court, said Santa Maria attorney Janice Bellucci (Video).
Bellucci, president of the board of a group called California Reform Sex Offender Laws, filed the suit, which also seeks unspecified financial damages, on behalf of the plaintiffs.
Simi Valley City Attorney Marjorie Baxter said the lawsuit is groundless.
"We thoroughly researched the ordinance and I don't feel the lawsuit has any merit, and we will defend it vigorously," she said.
The Simi Valley City Council adopted the law — the only one of its kind in Ventura County — to prevent sex offenders from having contact with trick-or-treating children on Halloween. Championed by Mayor Bob Huber, a lawyer who is seeking re-election in November, the measure applies to the several dozen convicted child sex offenders who live in the city and are listed on the Megan's Law website.
- So what is wrong with the sex offender hit-list? Guess you're saying it doesn't work like intended, and also, what about holding parents accountable and having them go along with their children?
The ordinance requires the offenders to post signs on their front doors saying, "No candy or treats at this residence." It also bars them from opening their doors to children on the holiday, displaying Halloween decorations or having exterior lighting on their property from 5 p.m. to midnight on Oct. 31.
When voting for the measure on Sept. 10, Councilman Steve Sojka expressed concerns that the city could be exposing itself to a lawsuit by passing the law.
The measure is scheduled to take effect in time for Halloween.
The lawsuit argues that the ordinance prohibits "a discrete and socially outcast minority from expressing any publicly viewable celebration of Halloween" and "forces this group to impose a burden on their own safety and that of any person who resides with them by requiring them to turn off all exterior lighting at their residences on Oct. 31 every year."
The ordinance also publicly shames the sex offenders "by mandating that they place a large content-specific sign on their door every year," the lawsuit contends.
But Councilman Mike Judge noted at the council's Aug. 20 meeting that the ordinance was limited to registered sex offenders on the Megan's Law website, which publicly lists their identities.
"We're not branding them," Judge, a Los Angeles police officer, said. "They're already branded."
Bellucci argues that there are no reported instances of a child being molested while trick-or-treating.
According to her group's website, the organization is "dedicated to restoring civil rights for those accused and/or convicted of sex crimes."
The City Council adopted the ordinance on a 4-1 vote with Councilwoman Barbra Williamson dissenting. She and Sojka are also running for re-election in November.