In a statement released today, the Sacramento-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation reports that California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has cited attorney-client privilege to prevent public release of a legal opinion from Attorney General Kamala Harris which supported the CDCR's decision not to enforce the residency restriction for sex offenders in all California counties.
On March 2, 2015, the California Supreme Court ruled in the case of In re Taylor that a provision of the 2006 Jessica's Law initiative, which prohibits paroled sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of schools and parks, violated the constitutional rights of sex offenders living in San Diego County, but the court declined to rule on its applicability to the state's other 57 counties.
In a March 26 statement, a CDCR spokesperson announced that the agency would stop enforcing the residency restriction anywhere in California based upon the court's decision and an opinion from the Attorney General which concluded that the restriction would be held "unconstitutional in every county."
When the Foundation's President asked CDCR for a copy of the Attorney General's opinion, he was told that the opinion was confidential and that the possibility of disclosure would require a formal request under the state's Public Records Act. In an April 6 letter to CDCR, state Senator Sharon Runner also requested the Attorney General's opinion. To date she has received no response.
Tuesday afternoon (April 14), CDCR issued a memorandum announcing that they would review residency restrictions of the state's approximately 6,000 paroled sex offenders on a case-by-case basis, but the Attorney General's legal opinion supporting this policy was not disclosed. The memorandum implies that the agency retains the option to enforce the restrictions when and where it chooses.
The Foundation estimates that the residency restriction can be enforced in at least 51 of the state's 58 counties, providing parents and children with the protection required by the law.
The Foundation notes that the fundamental presumption of the California Public Records Act is that governmental records shall be disclosed to the public, upon request, unless there is a specific reason not to do so.
"More than 70% of California voters supported residency restrictions for sex offenders when they adopted Jessica's Law. The Attorney General is the state's top law enforcement officer, and the CDCR is the state agency in charge of monitoring sex offenders on parole. What possible reason is there to keep the Attorney General's legal opinion supporting a statewide waiver of the residency restrictions or selective enforcement by CDCR from the public," said Foundation President Michael Rushford.
"There is no apparent legal basis to lift these restrictions in most parts of California, but if Attorney General Harris has discovered one, the people have a right to know what it is," he added.
CJLF President Michael Rushford is available for comment at (916) 446-0345.