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Judge Allows San Diego Sex Offender Lawsuit To Proceed

Downtown San Diego federal building on Aug. 13, 2018.
Katie Schoolov
Downtown San Diego federal building on Aug. 13, 2018.

San Diego City Council members are under more pressure to repeal an unenforceable law restricting where sex offenders can live in the city, after a federal judge allowed a lawsuit challenging the ordinance to proceed.

Judge Barry Ted Moskowitz ruled in January against the city's motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which was filed in 2017 by a group of unnamed sex offenders. The lawsuit rests heavily on a 2015 decision by the California Supreme Court finding blanket restrictions on where all sex offenders can live increase the rate of homelessness among sex offenders, depriving them of their right to seek treatment.

The court said such laws can also make society less safe by making it more difficult for law enforcement to keep track of sex offenders, who are typically under strict supervision when on parole.

The city's ordinance, called the Child Protection Act, bans registered sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of minor-oriented facilities such as parks, schools and arcades. The city has not enforced the ordinance since 2009 — one year after its passage — because of questions over its legality.

RELATED: San Diego Sex Offender Residency Law Faces Uphill Legal Battle

The San Diego County District Attorney's Office said most child sexual predators do not find their victims by frequenting schools or playgrounds, but rather by targeting children they know and with whom they have built up trust.

Alex Landon, an attorney for the plaintiffs, declined an interview request but said he expected to soon enter settlement talks with the city. The city is being represented by Chris Morris, a private attorney, under a $50,000 contract approved by council members in September 2017. Morris' law firm said he was currently out of the country and unavailable for comment.

The case has not been docketed at any closed session of the City Council since Judge Moskowitz's ruling.

RELATED: Which City Council Member Changed Their Vote On Sex Offender Law?

In August 2017, City Attorney Mara Elliott asked the council to repeal the Child Protection Act, citing the state Supreme Court's decision that overturned a nearly identical ordinance governing the unincorporated areas of San Diego County.

"My concern, of course, as your city attorney is fighting lawsuits like this that we are not convinced that we could win, and ensuring that we're using the very limited resources within my office to protect San Diegans in a way that means something," Elliott told the council at its Aug. 1 meeting.

Still, the council voted 5-4 in that meeting to uphold the ordinance. The plaintiffs filed the lawsuit in federal district court one week later.

Councilman Chris Ward later explained his vote in an interview, saying he wanted the city to revise the ordinance rather than repeal it. The council has not discussed any revisions to the ordinance.

Judge Allows San Diego Sex Offender Lawsuit To Proceed
San Diego City Council members are under more pressure to repeal an unenforceable law restricting where sex offenders can live in the city, after a federal judge allowed a lawsuit challenging the ordinance to proceed. You can hear this story and other local news every morning by subscribing to San Diego Stories, KPBS’ daily news podcast. Subscribe via iTunes, Google Play or your favorite podcatcher.

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