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San Diego To Enter Settlement Talks In Sex Offender Residency Lawsuit

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

Photo by Katie Schoolov

Above: Downtown San Diego federal building on Aug. 13, 2018.

San Diego City Council members on Tuesday will get their first official update in two years on a lawsuit challenging a city law that restricts where sex offenders can live.

In August 2017, council members went against advice from the City Attorney's Office and refused to repeal an ordinance banning sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of schools, parks and other minor-oriented facilities. The city has not enforced the law since 2009 because of previous challenges to its constitutionality.

Listen to this story by Andrew Bowen.

The most recent lawsuit was filed in federal court one week after the council's decision to keep the law on the books. The plaintiffs are two anonymous sex offenders who say the law is overly broad and prevents them from living almost anywhere in San Diego. The law does not distinguish between sex offenders who committed crimes against children and those who did not.

The city lost the first battle in the lawsuit when U.S. District Court Judge Barry Ted Moskowitz ruled in January against the city's motion to dismiss. Federal Magistrate Judge William V. Gallo, who has taken over portions of the case, ordered both sides to propose a settlement this month and meet privately on Oct. 7.

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

Attorney Christopher Morris is representing the city in the lawsuit under a $50,000 contract approved by the City Council in September 2017. He is scheduled to update council members on the status of the lawsuit in closed session on Tuesday, where they could direct him on how to proceed.

As of Monday, Morris had billed the city $38,475, according to city spokesman Arian Collins. Collins said city staffers are preparing to revise the contract to ask the council for more money.

The plaintiffs' legal argument leans on a 2015 decision by the California Supreme Court that overturned a nearly identical sex offender ordinance covering unincorporated San Diego County. The court found blanket residency restrictions on sex offenders are unconstitutional and increases a sex offender's risk of becoming homeless.

The plaintiffs also argue that indiscriminate restrictions on where sex offenders can live is not just unconstitutional — it's also bad policy. They point to reports from the California Sex Offender Management Board warning policies that restrict where sex offenders can live, however well intentioned, are ineffective, make communities less safe and increase the likelihood of sexual recidivism.

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

The San Diego County District Attorney's Office also says it is a myth that child predators find their victims by frequenting schoolyards and playgrounds. Instead they tend to prey on "children whom they know and with whom they have established a relationship."

Only three of the council members who voted to uphold the ordinance are still in office — Chris Ward, Chris Cate and Georgette Gomez. Three other sitting council members — Barbara Bry, Scott Sherman and Mark Kersey — voted to repeal the ordinance. The other three council members — Jen Campbell, Monica Montgomery and Vivian Moreno — were not on the council in 2017.

"This is one of those tough decisions, because I think of optics," Sherman said in the Aug. 1, 2017 council meeting. "But at the end of the day, if we don't repeal this ordinance, it stays on the books, we get sued, it costs hundreds of thousands of dollars in a lawsuit and we get forced to repeal our ordinance anyway."

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Aired: September 16, 2019 | Transcript

Editor's note: This story was updated with the amount of money the city has spent fighting the lawsuit.

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