See Update No. 2 at the end of this post on the Orange City Council repealing the sign requirement in its Halloween ordinance. Update No. 1 was on the city attorney recommending that action.
ORIGINAL POST, SEPT. 18, 6:10 P.M.: A federal lawsuit was filed today challenging a city of Orange ordinance that requires sex offenders to post signs on the front door of their residences on Halloween, according to a group trying to change such laws in California.
Reform Sex Offenders Laws (RSOL) claims in its complaint that the ordinance violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and puts sex offenders and their family members at risk for physical and emotional harm.
The ordinance would also violate the Fourth Amendment protecting citizens from unreasonable seizures if sex offenders were jailed for violating it. Those who do not obey the Orange law are subject to fines up to $1,000 and/or six months in jail, according to RSOL.
The Orange City Attorney's office was closed as this post was published, so no comment could be received from those officials.
“The city of Orange is the only city in California that requires registered citizens to post a sign on the front door of their residence,” says Janice Bellucci, a Santa Maria attorney and RSOL president, in a statement from the nonprofit. “A similar ordinance in the city of Simi Valley was successfully challenged in federal court last year.”
The judge in that case issued a temporary restraining order two days before Halloween last year preventing Simi Valley from enforcing the ordinance on grounds that those required to post signs on their front doors would likely suffer irreparable harm. The case was subsequently settled.
There are about 100 residents in Orange that have been convicted of sex-related crimes–and now have their and their families' constitutional rights jeopardized, according to RSOL.
As for harm to children, Bellucci points to an October 2012 California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation report that found the rate of re-offense by a person convicted of a sex-related crime while on parole is only 1.9 percent.
Her group reminds that the “wide range of offenses” that can have one labeled a sex offender include not just the perverted creeper ones that immediately spring to mind but public urination, sexting and possession of pornography.
UPDATE NO. 1, SEPT. 24, 8:30 A.M.: Orange City Attorney Wayne Winthers has reportedly looked at the judge's ruling in Simi Valley, negotiated with RSOL's Janice Bellucci and decided to recommend the Orange City Council spike the sign requirement in its Halloween ordinance.
The council is expected to take up the issue in closed session next week, reports the Los Angeles Times. State open meeting laws allow pending litigation to be discussed behind closed doors.
“I read the district court's ruling and I don't see any reason why the court would look at ours any differently,” Winthers reportedly told the Times. “Our intent wasn't to bring any unnecessary harm or scrutiny to any particular individual. We just wanted to protect children.”
UPDATE NO. 2, SEPT. 25, 12:50 P.M.: Following the advice of the city attorney, the Orange City Council repealed the ordinance requirement that registered sex offenders post signs on their front doors on Halloween as a warning to children.
The 4-0 vote came a week to the day after a lawsuit was filed against the city in federal court by Reform Sex Offenders Laws (RSOL), which argued the city ordinance put those residents who are registered sex offenders at risk of harm.
Mayor Teresa Smith said during the meeting the cost and risk in fighting the suit would be harmful–to taxpayers–and Councilman Fred Whitaker agreed, “It would be a losing battle.”
Councilman Mike Alvarez suggested the city instead concentrate on educating the public around Halloween time.
The council did leave three parts of the ordinance intact. Registered sex offenders in Orange cannot decorate their residences on Halloween, must leave all exterior lighting off from 5 p.m. Oct. 31 until midnight and can't answer the door for trick or treaters.
In addition to repealing the sign requirement, the council agreed to: send a letter to all registrants in the city notifying them of the repeal as well as the remaining Halloween restrictions.
Janice Bellucci, a lawyer who as head of RSOL had also filed the suit last year against Simi Valley that ended in her nonprofit's favor, presented a slippery slope argument to justify abolishing such city laws.
“We're concerned that it's Halloween today,” she said. “Is it going to be Easter next, where you can't have an Easter egg hunt in your yard with your grandchildren?”