The California Supreme Court on Wednesday essentially struck down Orange County's law banning registered sex offenders from public parks and recreation areas unless they first get permission from the sheriff's department.
The high court declined a request by the Orange County District Attorney's office (OCDA) to review a lower court's ruling striking down what were among the strictest sex offender restrictions in the state. District Attorney Tony Rackauckas and county Supervisor Shawn Nelson co-authored the county ordinance that was adopted in April 2011.
"We're obviously disappointed," Susan Kang Schroeder, OCDA chief of staff, told City News Service. "We put our heart and soul in every brief and every argument to protect the children of Orange County from dangerous sex offenders. … We still believe it was the right thing to do."
Schroeder, Rackauckas and Sheriff Sandra Hutchens were among the county law enforcement officials who went from city council meeting to city council meeting in Orange County urging local leaders to adopt ordinances modeled after the county's own. Skeptical council members were reassured these laws would stand up to constitutional challenges. Thirty cities enacted similar laws, half of them in Orange County.
"Today's decision is a major victory," said Janice Bellucci, the Santa Maria attorney who leads California Reform Sex Offender Laws (RSOL), of the high court's snub. "Through its denial to review a lower court decision, the California Supreme Court has ruled that ordinances in more than 70 cities and five counties are preempted by existing state law."
The 4th District Court of Appeal found in January that state law regulating the actions of sex offenders trumps the law enacted by the Orange County Board of Supervisors. This stemmed from the misdemeanor conviction of Hugo Godinez, who was registered as a sex offender in Costa Mesa and arrested for going to a company picnic at Mile Square Park in Fountain Valley.
The public defender for Godinez appealed the conviction to a Superior Court panel, which overturned the conviction but asked the state appeals court for a ruling, setting in motion the chain of events that led to the OCDA appeal and state Supreme Court snub.
In the meantime, the city of Irvine's similar law, which applied only to sex offenders with convictions for preying on children, was also struck down on appeal, the city of Lake Forest repealed its ordinance for fear of having to burn taxpayer dollars defending it, and the final indignity: Hutchens decided to stop enforcing the law she lobbied for.
Actually, the rejection of pervs-in-parks laws is sweeping the state, to hear attorney and RSOL board member Chance Oberstein tell it.
"More than 105,000 registered citizens and their families may now lawfully visit public and private locations including libraries, museums, parks, beaches and movie theaters," he said.