Friday, October 10, 2008

CA - Sex offenders file civil rights lawsuit

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By Paul Eakins, Staff Writer

COURTS: Attorneys say L.B. law restricting where their clients may live or loiter violates Constitution.

LONG BEACH - Attorneys representing 35 registered sex offenders filed a civil rights lawsuit this week aimed at a strict sex offender ordinance that the City Council passed in March.

The lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court in Long Beach, says the city's sex offender ordinance violates Constitutional rights and is too vague. The measure builds on existing state law to restrict where sex offenders may live or loiter, but city officials suspended enforcement of the ordinance in April.

"Basically it's not being enforced," City Attorney Robert Shannon said. "Why they chose to serve the lawsuit at this time is unclear to me."

Shannon said his office is reviewing the lawsuit and that he will consult with the council in closed session Oct. 21.

Shannon suspended enforcement of the ordinance so the city could reconsider aspects of the ordinance, he said at the time, but he has yet to return the legislation to the council.

Among the violations alleged by the lawsuit is that the ordinance violates the constitutional ex post facto clause. The clause prevents someone convicted of a crime from facing new or greater punishments than what was allowed at the time of the crime.
"It's adding punishments, not only telling them where they can and cannot be, but telling them where they can and cannot live," said Sarah Stockwell, a Fountain Valley attorney who is one of three lawyers representing the sex offenders.

Stockwell said her clients, whose names aren't used in the lawsuit, are seeking to have the ordinance declared unconstitutional and may seek damages if they are forced to move.

While a state law called Jessica's Law restricts where registered sex offenders who were convicted since November 2006 may live, the law isn't retroactive. Long Beach's ordinance affects all registered sex offenders in the city, regardless of when they committed their crimes.

The lawsuit also says the ordinance violates due process and the takings clause of the state and U.S. constitutions by forcing people from their homes.

"It restricts their freedom," Stockwell said. "We're talking about people who have been released from custody for anywhere from a couple years to 50 years."

Under Long Beach's ordinance, no more than one sex offender can live in a single structure (e.g. apartment or duplex building, or single-family dwelling) unless the sex offenders are related by blood, marriage or adoption.

Furthermore, no property owner or manager may knowingly rent any unit within a multi-family building to more than one sex offender, and no more than one sex offender can stay in a single room at a hotel, motel or inn.

The ordinance creates "residential exclusion zones" - a 2,000-foot radius around child-care centers, parks and schools - where sex offenders aren't allowed to live. In this densely populated city, that provision made most of Long Beach off-limits to sex offenders.

The ordinance also establishes "child safety zones" within 300 feet of areas where children congregate and where sex offenders may not loiter. This provision is one aspect of the ordinance that the lawsuit claims is too vague and ambiguous.

Council members passed the ordinance after Alamitos Beach residents became outraged over the discovery of an apartment building housing more than a dozen sex offenders in their neighborhood., 562-499-1278

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