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Cyber Cafe Law Is Gutted

March 22, 2003|Seema Mehta | Times Staff Writer

An Orange County Superior Court judge voided most of Garden Grove's cyber cafe law Friday, saying the city failed to show why it required these businesses to take precautions such as videotaping clients, hiring extra security guards and barring minors during school hours.

Judge Dennis Choate also raised 1st Amendment concerns about limiting public access to the Internet, although that was not his justification.

"The court finds that the ordinance ... remains seriously and fatally flawed," he wrote.

Garden Grove city officials will discuss in closed session at Tuesday's council meeting whether to appeal the decision.

Councilman Mark Leyes, who backed a stricter version of the ordinance than the one challenged in court, said the judge erred.

"The judge is overreaching in his ruling -- he's getting into legislating," Leyes said. "We need to go over the details of this.... I'm of the mind that we ought to appeal it."

Cafe operator Seok Jun Choi, who challenged the ordinance, couldn't be reached for comment Friday.

Efforts to reach attorneys for him and the city were unsuccessful.

The city first passed its law in January 2002, after several crimes at cyber cafes in Garden Grove and elsewhere in Orange County.

The ordinance required cafes to log all customers, limit business hours, videotape the premises and hold those tapes for 72 hours in case the police needed them, among other mandates.

Facing lawsuits from cafe operators, the city amended the law in November. Several requirements were left intact, but some provisions, such as business hours, were loosened. Choi sued anyway.

Among the provisions struck down Friday were:

* The permit process that allows city officials to add requirements for individual cafes.

* Requiring security guards, which Choate called "an undue burden

* Mandating videotaping.

Choate left intact the city's authority to set business hours and curfews for minors.

Leyes said the revised ordinance was diluted too much already.

"The thinking was, 'If we gave in a little bit and compromised, we would get something,' " he said.

Instead, the judge "took out probably the most effective provisions of the ordinance," Leyes said.

"I'm not willing to compromise when it comes to the safety of our children and families."

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