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Judge’s Ruling on Gangs Appealed : Courts: District attorney seeks to reinstate order barring Westminster gang members from gathering in public. Prosecutor cites lower crime rate.

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The district attorney’s office is appealing an Orange County Superior Court judge’s ruling in August that declared as unconstitutional efforts by the Westminster Police Department to prevent members of a gang from gathering in public, officials said Wednesday.

Prosecutor Gregory J. Robischon said he filed the notice of appeal Wednesday in an effort to overturn Judge Richard G. Beacom’s ruling that dissolved a temporary restraining order against 59 West Trece gang members.

Under that restraining order, Westminster police could cite West Trece gang members caught “standing, sitting, walking, driving, gathering or appearing anywhere in public view with each other” within a 25-block area of the city.

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Officials said the restraining order was successful in minimizing criminal activity by members of the gang, considered by law enforcement officials as one of the most violent of the 63 gangs operating in the city.

But when Westminster police asked for a permanent injunction in late August, Beacom ruled that the ban was an “impermissible invasion of privacy” and a violation of the gang members’ First Amendment rights.

The ruling was hailed by civil libertarians as an important affirmation of constitutional principles even in a community plagued by gang violence.

Robischon declined to say how county prosecutors and city lawyers will argue the case in appellate court. But Westminster City Atty. Richard Jones said they will contend that Beacom’s decision was an “improper interpretation of the Constitution.”

“It’s our belief that the judge failed to properly balance the rights of the citizens against the rights of the gang members,” Jones said.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which appeared as a “friend of the court” in the August hearing before Beacom, may again be involved in the appeals hearing, according to ACLU spokesman Mark Silverstein.

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“We believe any appellate court that looks carefully at the constitutional issues will affirm the Superior Court decision,” Silverstein said.

Preventing the West Trece gang members from gathering is a classic case of guilt by association, Silverstein said. “We believe the judge was entirely correct on the law” in denying the permanent injunction, he said.

In seeking the restraining order in June, city officials said that the West Trece gang was terrorizing residents in the area bounded by Golden West and Hoover streets, Trask Avenue and Westminster Boulevard.

According to a police study, from December, 1991, to May of this year, members of the gang had been involved in 339 crimes, including murder, drive-by shootings, assaults, drug dealing and auto theft.

When the restraining order was in force from July to August, police officials said there was a “significant” decline in criminal activity associated with the gang members.

Police Lt. Andrew Hall, community relations officer, said there were 11 gang-related crimes in July and two in August.

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Since the restraining order was lifted on Aug. 31, there have been 14 gang-related incidents, Hall said.

“We think that the level of gang-related incidents is returning to the level before the injunction,” he said.

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