O.C.'s sex offender ban to be reviewed by Court of Appeals

A state appellate court has agreed to review Orange County’s controversial law barring sex offenders from county parks and beaches, a move that may determine whether the ban is legal.

The county ordinance, passed in April 2011, prohibits all registered sex offenders from county parks, beaches and harbors without written consent from the sheriff. The district attorney’s office has successfully urged other county cities to pass versions of the law.

Susan Kang Schroeder, the chief of staff for the district attorney’s office, said both sides would like a binding decision on the matter.

“We believe that this issue is an important issue for the safety of Orange County children,” she said.

On Nov. 15, an Orange County Superior Court appeals panel overturned the misdemeanor conviction of Hugo Godinez, a registered sex offender who attended a Cinco de Mayo party at a county park in 2011.

The panel of judges said the county's sex offender law appeared to be illegal and asked the Court of Appeals to take up the case.

In response, the Orange County Sheriff's Department stopped enforcing the law and the Lake Forest City Council voted to repeal its  ban. 

“It is an important issue, especially in the county,” said Scott Van Camp, a deputy public defender who represents Godinez. “When the Court of Appeals issues an opinion, it will apply for everything.”

Berkeley law professor Frank Zimring said the laws are an example of criminal justice as theater rather than criminal justice for public safety. He said he is not surprised that the county law is being challenged.

“It’s only symbolic,” he said. “It’s only political appeal.”

This story was reported by Times Staff Writer Nicole Santa Cruz.

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