By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN
NEW ORLEANS - Hundreds of people who were convicted of soliciting oral or anal sex for money under Louisiana's "crime against nature by solicitation" law will have their names removed from the state's sex offender registry following the settlement of a class-action lawsuit.
U.S District Judge Martin Feldman on Tuesday approved the settlement agreement between the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights and Louisiana Attorney General James "Buddy" Caldwell's office.
Feldman ruled last year that nine plaintiffs who were convicted of the offense must be stricken from the registry. Plaintiffs' lawyers argued the ruling should be applied to roughly 700 others in the same position.
Alexis Agathocleous, one of the lead plaintiffs' lawyers on the case, said the registration requirement for people convicted of violating the law disproportionately punished black women and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
"We are gratified that the state has agreed to vindicate the rights of hundreds of people who continued to be unconstitutionally registered as sex offenders," he said in a statement.
The settlement doesn't apply to people convicted of soliciting sex from a minor or anyone who was convicted of another sex offense subject to registration. State officials have up to 30 days to make an initial determination of who is entitled to be removed from the registry.
Feldman ruled last year that state lawmakers had no "rational basis" for requiring people to register as sex offenders if they were convicted of violating the law. The judge said the plaintiffs wouldn't have had to register if instead they had been convicted of soliciting sex for money under the state prostitution law.
The state Legislature amended the 200-year-old law in 2011 so that anyone convicted of a "crime against nature by solicitation" no longer will be required to register. But the legislative change didn't apply to hundreds who already were registered.
During a hearing in December 2012, a lawyer representing Caldwell's office argued that the recent change in state law leaves the potential class members without any valid claims. Feldman refused to dismiss the class-action suit, however, and expressed frustration at the pace of the process for deciding whether people already had a right to have their names removed from the registry
"I am incredulous and very concerned about why this process has been dragged out against the backdrop of politics for so long," the judge said.