Westminster became the latest Orange County city to distance itself from a law banning sex offenders from city or county parks.
A number of cities including Mission Viejo, Seal Beach, Fountain Valley, Los Alamitos and Laguna Niguel have similar bans, all of which could face challenges in court. An attorney who represents a sex offender in the Westminster case represents several offenders challenging similar bans around the county as an infringement on civil liberty. Many of the bans could depend on a pending appeals court decision about a Fountain Valley case.
The threat of a lawsuit prompted Lake Forest City Council to reverse its ban, and cities such as Seal Beach are reviewing their bans. And on Thursday Westminster city attorneys dismissed a misdemeanor case against a man accused of violating Westminster's ordinance prohibiting sex offenders from its parks, a law overturned by a panel of Orange County Superior Court judges and whose constitutionality is being considered by the Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Steven James Dietrich was accused of violating Westminster's ordinance on Oct. 11. His attorney, Scott Van Camp of the Orange County Public Defender's Office, filed a motion to throw out the case, but the Westminster City Attorney's Office dismissed the charges before that motion could be considered.
Van Camp represents multiple defendants presenting constitutional challenges to ordinances banning registered sex offenders from parks in more than a dozen Orange County cities as well as unincorporated areas.
All the ordinances will hinge on how the appellate court rules on the misdemeanor case against Hugo Godinez. Godinez's misdemeanor conviction for violating the county's ordinance was dismissed in November by a panel of Orange County Superior Court judges, who asked the higher court to consider the ruling in December.
It could take another six months for the appellate court to rule, Van Camp said. The appellate court's ruling would establish legal precedence.
The three-court panel of Orange County Superior Court judges overturned the Godinez conviction because they concluded that state law preempts the city ordinances. If the state has a law regarding a specific crime cities are not allowed to pass ordinances that expand on them or are variations on them unless the state law permits that.
State laws ban parolees for some serious sex offenses involving victims younger than 14 from entering parks, Van Camp said.
The judges who overruled Godinez's conviction noted sex offenders would have a difficult time navigating a ``patchwork'' of ordinances throughout Orange County.
Godinez is a registered sex offender with Costa Mesa because of his misdemeanor conviction for sexual battery on June 23, 2010, according to prosecutors. Godinez went to Mile Square Regional Park in Fountain Valley on May 5, 2011, during a Cinco de Mayo celebration. He was convicted of violating the county's ordinance on Nov. 14, 2011.
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- City News Service