|Don't cry lil' fella!|
By SARAH de CRESCENZO
New members oppose the reversal, but the majority fears the costs of defending against lawsuits in light of a court's rejection of a similar law.
LAKE FOREST – Three members of the City Council voted Tuesday to undo a law passed a year ago banning registered sex offenders from city parks.
Mayor Kathryn McCullough, Mayor Pro Tem Scott Voigts and Councilman Peter Herzog voted to remove the ban from the city's books in light of a court ruling that a similar ordinance elsewhere is trumped by state law, and in the face of a federal lawsuit challenging the ban's constitutionality.
Councilmen Adam Nick and Dwight Robinson, the council's two newest members, voted against repealing the park ban, which county officials have touted as way to protect children from sexual predators.
- Not all ex-sex offenders are predators, and this law bans all ex-sex offenders, not just predators. How many children can you name that have been abducted in a park? Hell, Eagles (Video) are snatching more kids than ex-sex offenders.
Robinson, a father of three, said he could not support removing the law at this time.
"My 1-year-old has no clue of what's going on, obviously. ... My 11-year-old, she's trying to figure out what Dad's going to do, and I'm as responsible to her as I am to the residents of Lake Forest," Robinson said.
Robinson said he would have preferred the original ordinance to have a waiver option for registered sex offenders to temporarily enter parks, as the county and some cities have done. That waiver option was seen by some cities as a way to defend such an ordinance against legal action such as the federal lawsuit.
Lake Forest is one of four cities in Orange County named in the lawsuit, which was filed anonymously by a registered sex offender who alleges that the ban violates his constitutional rights. According to the lawsuit, the plaintiff committed his offense more than 15 years ago and is now married with children.
A recent ruling by the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of Orange County also played a role in the city's decision to backtrack. The ruling reversed the conviction of a registered sex offender who violated a county law similar to Lake Forest's.
In that ruling, a three-judge panel said the county law is superseded by state law.
The lawsuit and court ruling led city leaders to begin the process of reversing the ban this month. On Dec. 4, the council voted 4-0 in favor of the repeal, citing the cost – estimated in the hundreds of thousands of dollars – of defending against lawsuits.
In arguing for the repeal at that meeting, McCullough said the city's coffers should not fund the defense of an initiative by Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas. He and county Supervisor Shawn Nelson crafted the county ban, passed by the Board of Supervisors in April 2011.
Since then, Lake Forest and 15 other cities have passed similar laws banning registered sex offenders from city parks.
"Are you willing tonight (Dec. 4) to be able to say publicly on record that you will indemnify us for damages, attorney fees and any other costs connected with this?" McCullough asked Rackauckus (Video).
The district attorney said McCullough knew the answer to her question and accused her of grandstanding.
- Yeah, the usual ad-hominem attack. Isn't he grandstanding by lobbying for park bans which we all know won't protect anybody from someone who is intent on committing a crime?
Nick on Tuesday said he had surveyed 250 people, and 82 percent said not to repeal the ban, which is why he opposed it. He also said the cost of defending against lawsuits is outweighed by the need to protect children.
"I am fiscally conservative, and I would never want to waste your money, but there are certain things worth spending money on, and protecting children from sex offenders is one of them," Nick said.
- But they don't protect children! If a person is so dangerous, and intent on committing a crime against a child, do you really think they are going to obey a park ban? Come on!