Orange County Register (California)
BYLINE: Michael Mello Register writer, The Orange County Register
Twice within the span of a month, the city has been sued by sex offenders who say the city has violated their rights by refusing to let them live here.
City officials say they will stand behind the law, enacted with a unanimous vote in March, that bars sex offenders from living near schools, parks and civic buildings. It mirrors a state law enacted by voters in 2006 that prevents sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of schools or parks where children congregate. The city law goes further than the state mandate, also banning residency for sex offenders near private schools and day care centers.
In the first lawsuit, filed in December, Allison V. Pitts says the city refuses to let him return to the home he lived in before he was convicted of rape in 2003. He also says he’s forced to live on the street in an industrial part of Anaheim with others in a similar situation. His former residence in western Cypress is just blocks from Eucalyptus and Eastgate parks.
Current law, the lawsuit says, “forces (Pitts) to make an unlawful and unconscionable choice between being homeless or violating his parole condition and returning to prison.”
In 2003, Pitts pleaded guilty in a Los Angeles County courtroom to charges of raping his former girlfriend. After he was paroled in 2010, the state Department of Corrections and Cypress police determined he couldn’t live in the city. He looked to Los Alamitos, where law enforcement also turned him down, the lawsuit says.
Pitts’ Glendale-based attorney, Carlo A. Spiga, filed the lawsuit on Dec. 21.
On Monday, the council voted to fight Pitts’ lawsuit, and a separate lawsuit filed Monday, City Attorney William Wynder said.
“We were told to defend the city’s ordinance, and that’s what we will be doing,” Wynder said. “We worked carefully with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office in crafting our ordinance. It’s entirely within state law, allowing localities to adopt more stringent requirements. This ordinance is enforceable.”
In addition to the proximity restrictions, the Cypress law prevents more than one sex offender from living in a single residence unless they are married or related by blood. It also prevents sex offenders from putting up Halloween decorations or answering the door for trick-or-treaters.
Spiga and Los Alamitos city officials did not return phone calls seeking comment. Luis Patiño, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections, said his agency doesn’t comment on ongoing litigation, but said there are several similar lawsuits active in several counties across the state.
A 2010 ruling by the state Supreme Court said the state restrictions can be applied to convicts who committed their crimes before the 2006 law took effect.
Pitts’ lawsuit asks for the state and Cypress laws to be overturned, as well as for lawyer’s fees.
In the second lawsuit, filed earlier this week, Richard Linington and his fiancee, Michelle Moreno, say Cypress has unconstitutionally tried to prevent him from living in Moreno’s home. Linington was convicted in 1987 of sexual penetration with a foreign object and released in 1990.
Linington’s Santa Maria-based attorney, Janice M. Bellucci, said Linington and Moreno got engaged in November 2010, and that he signed an agreement to pay about $700 rent to Moreno before he moved in with her the following February.
The ordinance requires sex offenders in rentals at the time the law took effect to leave after their leases expire, but Bellucci said Linington’s agreement with Moreno is open-ended.
“He is still living there, but the city is threatening,” Bellucci said; she expects the city to try to evict Linington in late February. “There’s nowhere else he can live in Cypress. We believe they have the right to live together, whether or not he’s engaged.”
Wynder said the Police Department hasn’t driven renters out of town right away, but has given many of them up to six months to find other places to live.
Bellucci is president of California Reform Sex Offender Laws, and in March penned a letter to Cypress arguing that the then-proposed law was overly broad.
“It’s unfortunate that Cypress has chosen to ignore the information we provided them before they did what they did,” Bellucci said this week. “We gave them every opportunity to do the right thing, but they chose a different path.”
Register writer Sarah de Crescenzo contributed to this report.
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