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Judge to Rule on Release of Day-Care Center Papers

February 06, 1986|KENNETH J. FANUCCHI | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Paul Turner will rule Friday on a request by the district attorney's office to release documents seized from a Santa Monica church during an investigation into the operation of an unlicensed day-care center.

The documents, including the names of parents whose children are attending the center, were seized Jan. 14 from the Lighthouse Weekday Sunday School and an office in the adjoining Santa Monica Foursquare Church, 1220 20th St.

The papers are in the possession of a court-appointed special master.

The investigation was carried out in a joint operation by the state Department of Social Services, the district attorney's office and the Santa Monica police, fire and building departments.

Says Documents Needed

Deputy Dist. Atty. Lee Harris told Turner in a court hearing Tuesday that his office needs the documents for possible criminal prosecutions and to support its contention that the church is operating a regular child day-care center without a state license.

The church's attorney, Albert F. Cunningham, argued against release of the documents, saying that they were obtained illegally and that they are confidential as private records of persons engaging in legally protected religious activity.

Turner said during the hearing that he will attempt to reach a decision that balances the issue of religious freedom with the state's obligation to protect the health and safety of children cared for by third parties.

Cunningham is a Mountain Crest resident who specializes in defending fundamentalist churches across the country from attempts by the state to license church-operated, day-care centers.

Pastor to Be Arraigned

He said he will also represent Santa Monica Foursquare Church in two court hearings scheduled next week. The Rev. Linda Norris, a pastor of the church, is to be arraigned Feb. 13 in Santa Monica Municipal Court on a charge of obstructing a police officer in connection with the Jan. 14 investigation.

On Feb. 14, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Jack Newman is scheduled to hear a request from the state attorney general's office for a preliminary injunction closing the Weekday Sunday School because church leaders have refused to obtain a license to operate from the state Department of Social Services.

Cunningham said after the hearing Tuesday that the paramount issue in the Santa Monica case, as well as others he is defending, is "the lordship of Jesus Christ."

"We maintain that the church derives its license to operate the Weekday Sunday School from Jesus Christ, not from the state," Cunningham said. "There can be no compromise on our belief in the lordship of Jesus Christ."

Religious Issue Challenged

Deputy Dist. Atty. Harris argued in court that the Weekday Sunday School has all the elements of a regular child day-care center, including the feeding, clothing, baby-sitting and entertaining of children at the facility. He said that no religious issue is involved.

Harris also introduced into the record a Jan. 17 letter from the Santa Monica Fire Department listing 39 violations of fire safety laws allegedly found at the Weekday Sunday School during the Jan. 14 investigation. Alleged violations included the use of uninspected, possibly faulty fire extinguishers at the facility.

The Rev. Ronald G. Norris, pastor of the church, said in answer to a question about fire safety from Harris that the church maintains a facility free from any health and safety hazard.

"We're not perfect," Norris said. "But we try to maintain safety standards that would be applied by any sensible person."

Church officials have refused at least five times since 1983 to apply for or obtain a state license to operate a day-care center, arguing that the state has no constitutional right to license church activities.

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