Ted Chen and Sue Monroe
A new Simi Valley law that would keep registered sex offenders from decorating their homes or handing out Halloween candy is being challenged in court by the 18-month-old advocacy group California Reform Sex Offender Laws. Ted Chen reports for the NBC4 News at 11 p.m. on Oct. 2, 2012
An attorney representing five Simi Valley sex offenders who sued the city over limits to their Halloween activities said the lawsuit will be the first of several she expects to file over such restrictions.
Lawyer Janice Bellucci heads the 18-month-old advocacy group California Reform Sex Offender Laws. On Friday, she filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming that Simi Valley's ordinance violates her clients' First Amendment rights.
The suit seeks a judge's order prohibiting enforcement of the ordinance in Simi Valley, which has 119 registered sex offenders, according to a city report. Bellucci is representing five unnamed sex offenders, three of their spouses and two minor children, she said.
The ordinance, adopted Sept. 10, prohibits registered sex offenders in the Ventura County city of about 125,000 from displaying Halloween decorations, answering the door to trick-or-treaters or having outside lighting after dark on Oct. 31.
Simi Valley councilman and LAPD officer Mike Judge said the law is modeled after similar Halloween laws enforced in other California cities, and is meant to protect children.
"This law was generated by citizens asking the City Council to do something," Judge said. "And it didn’t seem unreasonable for the City Council to take it up.
"As far as I’m concerned, our law doesn’t go as far as other laws in the state of California and it still, in our opinion, protects our children a little bit better than not having it."
Registered sex offenders are also required to post signs with on their front doors reading, in 1-inch letters, "No candy or treats at this residence." Those offenders visible to the public on the state's Megan's Law website and convicted of a crime against a child are required to post the sign.
Sixty-seven of the city's offenders are listed on the website, according to a city report; the rest are convicted of misdemeanors and don't have their names on the public list.
Bellucci said the sign-posting requirement was "particularly egregious."
"We consider that to be a violation of the U.S. Constitution," Bellucci said Tuesday.
The ordinance both imposes "forced speech" – the sign – and restricts speech by prohibiting Halloween celebrations, she said.
"It's similar to Jews in Nazi Germany who had to wear the yellow star on their clothing," Bellucci said.
The Simi Valley measure is part of a trend of increasing strict restrictions on the activities of convicted sex offenders who have "paid their debt to society," Bellucci said.
Her organization intends to begin filing lawsuits to challenge other statutes, she said.
The office of Simi Valley City Attorney Marjorie Baxter said the city had not been served with Bellucci's complaint, so it had no comment as of Tuesday afternoon.
Baxter was quoted in the Ventura County Star, which first reported on the lawsuit, as saying: "We thoroughly researched the ordinance and I don't feel the lawsuit has any merit, and we will defend it vigorously."
At an Aug. 20 initial City Council hearing on the ordinance, a deputy city attorney told council members that "traditional trick or treat activities associated with Halloween provide have the potential to provide significant opportunities for sex offenders to victimize minors."
Council members at that time expressed some concern about legal repercussions, as well as worries that residents who decide not to decorate will be thought by neighbors to be sex offenders.
The police chief told the council that he could find no records of a sex crime against a child on Halloween in Simi Valley.
Those who are convicted of violating the ordinance would be guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to a fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to six months in county jail, according to a city staff report.
California residents who have been convicted of or pleaded no contest or guilty to a sex-related offense must register with local public safety authorities. Offenders are listed on the registry for life.