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Prosecutors petition court to review ban on sex offenders

City News Service | 2/21/2014, midnight

Orange County prosecutors this week filed a writ petitioning the state Supreme Court to review two appellate court rulings striking down a ban on registered sex offenders in the county’s parks and in more than a dozen of its cities.

“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 high court. “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.”

Last month, a panel of Fourth District Court of Appeal justices struck down the county’s ordinance and one in Irvine. Since the Irvine ruling was published, it acts as precedent and makes all of the bans unconstitutional.

The state’s high court can either reject the petition, letting the appellate court rulings stand, or it can set up another round of appeals before the supreme 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,” said Scott VanCamp, an attorney with the Orange County Public Defender’s Office, who argued the case before the appellate court.

The appellate panel ruled that the local ordinances conflicted with state law, which takes precedence.

“The Court of Appeal also makes it clear in its opinions that if the state legislature did not mean to preempt these local ordinances, it would be very easy for the legislature to pass a law saying that,” VanCamp said.

Fitzpatrick argues in his petition to the state’s high court that the law is not settled on the question of whether state law takes precedence over local ordinances in all cases.

The petition came a day after the Costa Mesa City Council repealed its ordinance.

“If the appellate court says it’s unconstitutional and you can’t do it, then we don’t want to do it,” Mayor Jim Righeimer told 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.”

The city was also named in a civil lawsuit challenging the ordinance.

Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas’ office does not need the county board’s permission to seek a supreme court review, but at least three supervisors on the Orange County board have said they would rather let the appellate court’s rulings stand than spend more money on the legal battle.

Ordinances banning registered sex offenders from parks were on the books in 15 Orange County cities. Most of them banned registered sex offenders, except in Irvine and Fountain Valley, which target those convicted of crimes against children.

Lake Forest, Lancaster and Palmdale and El Dorado County repealed bans due to “legal uncertainty,” according to Fitzpatrick’s petition.