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Appeals court to examine O.C. sex offender ban from parks, beaches

The district attorney's office had successfully urged about 16 other cities in the county to adopt versions of the ordinance.

December 21, 2012|By Nicole Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times

A state appellate court has agreed to review Orange County's controversial law barring sex offenders from county parks and beaches, a move that may determine whether the ban — and other ordinances modeled after it — are legal.

The county ordinance prohibits all registered sex offenders — even those not convicted of crimes against a child — from entering county parks, beaches and harbors without a written waiver from the sheriff.

The district attorney's office has successfully urged about 16 other cities in the county to adopt versions of the ordinance, saying the law will help keep parks and seashores safe for children. It is considered one of the most aggressive sex offender bans in the state.

Of the cities that have enacted versions of the law, nearly half are being challenged in court, and one city has repealed the ordinance.

Last month, an Orange County Superior Court appeals panel overturned the misdemeanor conviction of Hugo Godinez, a registered sex offender who attended a Cinco de Mayo party at Mile Square Regional Park in Fountain Valley in 2011.

In response, the Orange County Sheriff's Department stopped enforcing the law and the Lake Forest City Council voted to repeal its ban.

The panel said the county's sex offender law appeared to be illegal and asked the 4th District Court of Appeal to hear the case.

Susan Kang Schroeder, chief of staff for the district attorney's office, said both sides would like a binding decision on the matter.

"We believe that this issue is an important issue for the safety of Orange County children," she said.

In recent weeks, the California Reform Sex Offender Laws group sent out letters urging each city with an ordinance to repeal its law. The letter mentions Lake Forest as an example and cites the City Council's concern for potential legal liability as a result of the ordinances. Lake Forest is one of the cities being sued.

The group also says that if cities don't take action to repeal their laws, the organization will "pursue all available legal remedies" to stop enforcement of the ordinances.

"It is an important issue, especially in the county," said Scott Van Camp, a deputy public defender who represents Godinez. "When the Court of Appeals issues an opinion, it will apply for everything."

Berkeley law professor Frank Zimring said the laws are an example of criminal justice as theater, rather than criminal justice for public safety. He said he is not surprised that the county law is being challenged.

"It's only symbolic," he said of the law. "It's only political appeal."

nicole.santacruz@latimes.com

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