See the update at the end of this post about the council vote on second reading.
ORIGINAL POST, DEC. 5, 9:39 A.M.: The Lake Forest City Council voted Tuesday night to repeal its ban on registered sex offenders in city parks. These are the same city leaders that last year passed the ordinance establishing Child Safety Zones, which subject registered pervs to fines and/or jail if they fail to get permission from law enforcement before entering designated parks and recreational areas.
The matter is scheduled to come before the council for a second reading on Dec. 18.
District Attorney Tony Rackauckas co-authored the original County of Orange ordinance that several city councils have mirrored at the urging of the DA and other county leaders. The DA reportedly attended Tuesday evening's council meeting to say it would be premature of Lake Forest to scrap its ban. His Chief of Staff Susan Kang Schroeder reportedly informed that Rackauckas and his co-author, county Supervisor Shawn Nelson, expected legal challenges along the way as they did their duty to protect Orange County children.
But T-Rack and Schroeder were not elected to protect the Lake Forest city treasury, members of the City Council were. And they were told by City Manager Bob Dunek that there is no evidence the year-old ordinance has kept sex offenders out of city parks, but there is evidence Child Safety Zones expose the city to mounting court costs, attorney fees and possible damage awards.
When Mayor Kathryn McCullough asked Rackauckas if he would say publicly his office would indemnify Lake Forest for damages, court costs and attorney fees the city might incur by having the ordinance, the DA answered of course not and called her out for a "grandstand question."
Lake Forest, which is home to about 40 registered sex offenders, is among four cities targeted in a federal lawsuit by an unnamed plaintiff who was popped for a sex offense 15 years ago. Now a father, he claims the ordinances violate his 1st, 5th and 14th Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution. Challenges to similar laws in Orange County have also been filed in state courts.
A panel of Superior Court judges just ruled the Rackauckas-Nelson authored ordinance adopted in April 2011 is unconstitutional. Orange County Public Defender Frank Ospino claims that decision voided the county law. Rackauckas countered the ruling only applied to the specific defendant in the case before the Superior Court judges, who requested the state appeals court intervene for an interpretation on laws banning sex offenders from parks.
Someone claiming to be a registered sex offender told the Weekly Orange County Sheriff's Department officials informed him he can now enter county parks and recreational areas without being subjected to the ordinance sanctions. Sheriff Sandra Hutchens had been among the county officials advocating the enactment of Child Safety Zones before city councils like Lake Forest's.
When the matter returns before the council, there will be two new members to lobby, Adam Nick and Dwight Robinson, who were elected in November.
UPDATE, DEC. 19, 12:30 P.M.: The Lake Forest City Council Tuesday night formally killed its only months old ordinance prohibiting registered sex offenders from entering local parks unless they get the permission from law enforcement.
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By a 3-2 vote, the council seconded its Dec. 4 action to scrap the law, arguing that protecting city coffers from lawsuits trumps protecting children from possible harm. Lake Forest is among several Orange County cities being sued on constitutional grounds over ordinances that were approved to mirror the original county version adopted in April 2011.
The dissenting votes came from freshly sworn-in councilmen Adam Nick and Dwight Robinson. Nick explained he surveyed 250 residents, and 82 percent wanted the law retained. Robinson said, as a father, he could not support ditching the Child Safety Zones.
He'll have to convince one more council member to bring it back because, with approval on a second reading, the ordinance is dead for now.