A panel of appellate court justices today struck down all Orange County laws -- including Rancho Santa Margarita's -- banning registered sex offenders from parks, ruling they conflicted with state law.
The published opinion by a Fourth District Court of Appeal panel dealt with Irvine's law banning people convicted of crimes against children from parks, according to an attorney representing Hugo Godinez, whose conviction in a similar case was overturned.
“I'm pleased the Court of Appeal agreed that the regulation of sex offenders has to be done on a statewide level, so that it is uniform,” said Scott Van Camp of the Orange County Public Defender's Office, who represented Godinez and the defendant challenging the Irvine ordinance.
A county ordinance making it a misdemeanor for a registered sex offender to enter a county park without the county sheriff's written permission was also overturned in an unpublished opinion.
State laws ban parolees of some serious sex offenses involving victims younger than 14 from entering parks, Van Camp said.
Ordinances banning registered sex offenders from parks are on the books in 15 Orange County cities. Most of them ban registered sex offenders, except for Irvine and Fountain Valley, which only targets those convicted of crimes against children.
The rulings can be appealed to the state Supreme Court, or county officials can ask the appellate justices to review their opinions, Van Camp said.
“We're going to review our options requesting the Supreme Court of California to review this case,'' said Susan Kang Schroeder, the chief of staff for Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas.
“We believe in this war in protecting children against sex offenders that the state never intended to pre-empt every law keeping sex offenders out of parks.”
Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairman Shawn Nelson, who led the adoption of bans in Fullerton and in the county, told City News Service he does not like the rulings, but accepts them.
“It's disappointing, but, hey, they're a branch of government, too, and they have a responsibility and they've ruled and that's it,” Nelson said.
“The state Supreme Court might want to hear it, but I don't want to spend any more money on it,” Nelson said. “We did our best to protect our kids in the community, but I respect the Court of Appeal... I think we have to accept it and move on.”
Godinez, who registered as a sex offender with Costa Mesa police, went to Mile Square Regional Park in Fountain Valley on May 5, 2011, during a Cinco de Mayo celebration.
He was found guilty, but a panel of Orange County Superior Court judges, who handle appeals in misdemeanor cases, overturned his conviction in April and sent the case to the Fourth District Court of Appeal for further review.
-- City News Service