Sep 29, 2013

City could face civil rights lawsuit if ordinance enforced

GREENVILLE – “If we brought action under this ordinance they would counter-sue.”

According to Greenville City Law Director Camille L. Baker, Greenville resident John Graham and his attorney, Jeff Slyman, Vandalia, made this clear to the city.

Baker said she wanted to make sure if someone actually did fall under this ordinance, would it be enforceable?

At the time City Ordinance 11-10 was passed, Baker understood the city’s insurance company had told them it wasn’t enforceable, that they would not cover it and if there was a judgment against the city, they would not pay it. The city set aside $60,000.

“That might pay for one day in court,” Baker added. Since she didn’t become law director until nine months after the fact, she said she wanted to find out exactly if the ordinance could be enforced. The city council and city administrative team sought the opinion of Pickrel, Schaeffer & Ebeling of Dayton, municipal law specialists.

Their 10-page opinion concluded the ordinance could not be enforced.

Baker said it is difficult to determine the amount of money for which the city might be liable if challenged.

“If they could show we knew the ordinance could not be enforced they could go after punitive damages.” If Baker was to file a complaint in Common Pleas court, the other party could counter-file in state court, then file a 1983 Civil Rights action in federal court.

“We’d be dealing with two courts at the same time,” she said. “There’s a cap on pain and suffering damages; there’s no cap on civil rights damages.

“To put the city in that kind of situation would be… well… close to criminal.”

The city’s ordinance expanded on the Ohio Revised Code requiring sex offenders to reside outside of a 1,000 foot radius from a school. Greenville’s ordinance expanded the zone to 1,500 feet and included schools, playgrounds, city parks, libraries and day care centers.

It allowed few areas left in Greenville where a sex offender falling under the ordinance could live. However neither the Ohio Revised Code nor the city ordinance restricted a sex offender from being in or near any of these locations. Just having a residence there.

Baker said there were rumblings shortly after she took office that the ordinance wasn’t being enforced.

“At the time no one was living in violation of the ordinance as all were residents prior to the ordinance being passed,” Baker added. “Since then there were two people in Greenville who fit the parameters; the offense was committed after the ordinance was passed. One has since left.”

Greenville’s sex offender ordinance was passed in 2011 after debate and public pressure over residences in Greenville where Graham allowed sex offenders to live in a controlled environment. Concerned residents in the impacted neighborhoods noted both public safety and loss of property value.

“The question isn’t do we want one (a sex offender law) on the books?” Baker said. “The question is is this one enforceable?

“As long as there is the Ohio Revised Code, we have to have a reason for expanding on it. We didn’t even speak to that.”

Baker said since she now has an opinion that this ordinance cannot be enforced, she can’t bring a complaint on it.


tristan black said...

The city can make tax laws that if you live outside of city limits you must pay greenville taxes if you work in the city limits. but they cant go to a law firm and have an ordinance wrote up for sexual predators that will hold up in court I call bullcrap!

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