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Show some restraint

A court's attempt to deter a man who says he's a pedophile is pointless. Society should use its existing tools.

August 10, 2007

Ordinarily, men with Jack McClellan's proclivities come to the public's attention when their crimes are exposed. Then our fear, our anger and our sympathies are specific to perpetrator and victim. But in an age when we are inundated with revelations of child sexual abuse, McClellan, a self-described pedophile, has generated a new category of creep. Trumpeting his sexual interest in little girls on television and the Internet, selecting no individual victim but extending his potential interest to all, McClellan has successfully revolted much of California.

He cannot be allowed to succeed in this act of emotional terrorism. And he will if we contort the laws and statutes created for 36 million residents in order to address one man's twisted publicity spree.

The temporary restraining order issued last week by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Melvin Sandvig is a logical legal step taken to its fear-induced extreme. Attorneys asked Sandvig to prohibit McClellan from loitering near minors in the Santa Clarita Valley, which he had visited and to which he planned to return, and to stop him from posting pictures of minors on the Internet without the consent of their parents. Instead, Sandvig ordered McClellan, who has committed no crime, to stay 10 yards from every child in California. Restraining McClellan from Santa Clarita would have been understandable, if constitutionally unsound. Restraining him from the entire state is even less supportable.

Assemblyman Cameron Smyth's method for neutralizing McClellan is just as well-intentioned, and just as troubling. Smyth, a Republican from Santa Clarita, is proposing legislation to make it illegal to publish photos or descriptions of children or the locations where they congregate with the intent of that information being used to do them harm. This is probably constitutional, but it seems pointless. If criminality hinges on intent, it's unclear how such a law would stop someone like McClellan, whose intent may be to harm children or merely to aggrandize himself.

We don't fault Sandvig or Smyth for instinctively trying to protect children. McClellan's actions understandably have prompted well-meaning officials to try to stop him.

But we propose that the means be found within our existing systems. If parents are frightened of McClellan, then put up posters identifying him. If police sense a threat from him, then shadow him. If he jaywalks, arrest him. In another time and place, McClellan would have been literally and gleefully pilloried. We want to thwart him, but not in ways that endanger our civil liberties.

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