When Hugo Godinez was ordered to register as a sex offender with the Costa Mesa Police Department at his sentencing for a 2010 misdemeanor sexual battery conviction, the Santa Ana resident could not have foreseen his future in shaping California law.
The latest ripple came Wednesday when the Orange County District Attorney's office filed a petition in hopes the state Supreme Court will uphold ordinances banning sex offenders from municipal parks and recreational facilities.
"The people of the state of California respectfully petition this court to grant review of an important issue affecting every city and county in California," Deputy District Attorney Brian Fitzpatrick wrote in his petition to the state Supremes. "Cities and counties need to know whether they can act to protect children within their communities from the approximately 75,000 sex offenders living in the state."
The state's high court can either reject the petition, letting appellate court rulings stand that have found pervs-in-parks bans unconstitutional, or set up another round of appeals before the justices.
Scott VanCamp, an attorney with the Orange County Public Defender's Office, argued the case based on Godinez's conviction for violating the county ordinance that was before the appellate court.
"I expected this would happen, but I'm hopeful the California Supreme Court will not take the case because I think the opinion from the appellate court is very well reasoned and very clear and easy to understand," VanCamp told City News Service.
Pervs-and-parks fever swept through Orange County after Supervisor Shawn Nelson and District Attorney Tony Rackauckas crafted the original county ordinance that was adopted in April 2011. The pair, Sheriff Sandra Hutchens and other law enforcement representatives then went city to city in Orange County to lobby for local versions of the law.
More than a dozen OC cities passed similar ordinances, which require registered sex offenders to stay out of local parks and recreational areas unless they get permission first from the law enforcement agency that patrols that municipality. In the case of Hutchens' agency, such permission has been difficult to obtain. Irvine and Fountain Valley, anticipating the legal challenges ahead, only applied their ordinances to registered sex offenders who had been convicted of preying on children.
If caught in these so-called Child Safety Zones without permission, the sex offender risked a fine or jail time. That's what happened to Godinez on May 5, 2011, when he attended what he claimed to be a "mandatory" company Cinco de Mayo party at Mile Square Regional Park, a county facility in Fountain Valley.
Godinez was later sentenced to 100 days in jail and five years of probation for violating the county ordinance, but a panel of Superior Court judges sought a review from the state's 4th District Court of Appeals. The appellate court overturned the Godinez conviction on grounds the county law is unconstitutional because the state already has laws on the books dealing with registered sex offenders.
A panel of justices from the same court also overturned Irvine's ordinance on the same grounds. JeanPierre Cuong Nguyen, the plaintiff in that case, had been arrested by Irvine police officers who'd been tipped he would be visiting a local tennis court.
The district attorney's office took the position at the time of the appellate decisions that they only applied to Godinez and Nguyen. But the public defender's office maintained the rulings had struck down as unconstitutional all such bans in the state.
An official with the DA's office previously told the Weekly that court challenges were anticipated when the county ordinance was enacted and that the DA was prepared to make a case before the state's highest court. District Attorney Tony Rackauckas can make that call without the permission of the county Board of Supervisors, although three members have indicated they would prefer to let the appellate rulings stand than spend more money to fight them.
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That was the same rationale Lake Forest cited when it repealed its ordinance last year, agreeing that defending the law would cut too deeply into the city treasury.
Fitzpatrick's writ to the high court was filed a day after the Costa Mesa City Council unanimously repealed its ordinance due to the appellate rulings. The city has also been named in a civil lawsuit filed by a sex offender known in court papers as "John Doe."
"If the appellate court says it's unconstitutional and you can't do it, then we don't want to do it," Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer explained to City News Service. "If they appeal and win, we can always come back to it, but we don't want that thing hanging out there if it's unconstitutional. We like the protections, but if it's constitutional and it's not cleared up, we don't want it on our books."