Sex offender law challenged

CLEVELAND – A federal court ruling that strikes down part of an Ohio law banning convicted sex offenders from living near schools applies to thousands of offenders living in 40 counties in northern Ohio, a lawyer who successfully challenged the law said today.

The decision affects offenders living in the jurisdiction of the U.S. District Court Northern District of Ohio, said David Singleton, executive director of the Cincinnati-based Ohio Justice and Policy Center.

In a decision yesterday, Judge James S. Gwin in Akron ruled that the law cannot be applied to anyone who committed a crime before July 31, 2003, the effective date of the Ohio Legislature’s ban on offenders living within 1,000 feet of school property.

The legal challenge was filed on behalf of Lane Mikaloff, 39, who served 16 years in prison for raping a woman in 1986.

“It is going to be the law of the Northern District of Ohio for all those individuals who like Mr. Mikaloff committed offenses before the law went into effect,” Singleton said.

Singleton said it was the only standing federal court ruling to declare the law unconstitutional when applied retroactively. A similar ruling by a federal judge in Iowa was struck down by an appeals court in 2005.

Douglas Powley, chief city prosecutor in Akron, said today he hopes lawmakers can craft a law that can withstand a constitutional challenge.

“I sympathize with the efforts of the state Legislature to try to protect the children in our community from sex offenders and hope that we can find ways to provide that protection that will meet constitutional muster,” he said.

Mikaloff received an eviction notice in 2005 from the Summit County sheriff’s office because of his home’s proximity to a public school in Akron.

Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh plans to appeal Gwin’s ruling.

Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann argues the ruling doesn’t affect anyone but Mikaloff. “This ruling is based on the unique set of facts and circumstances presented to the Court by this plaintiff, and affects him alone,” Dann said in a statement.

Singleton disagreed. “That’s like saying that Brown versus Board of Education only applied to the Brown plaintiff,” he said referring to the landmark case that barred segregation in public schools.

Singleton said while not technically binding outside of the Northern District, other courts will look at the issue when considering similar lawsuits, including pending cases in Florida and Georgia.

In nearby Parma, Mayor Dean DePiero said he would lobby fellow mayors to have the Ohio Municipal League join in an appeal of the judge’s ruling.

“We have been very aggressive in enforcing the 1,000-foot restriction and have filed a variety of successful lawsuits to evict sex offenders from the city,” the mayor said. “I, like many other mayors I’ve spoken with, believe that the ruling is wrong.”

Parma, Cleveland’s biggest suburb, has successfully sued to evict 35 sex offenders from living near schools in the past three years, mayoral spokesman Powell Caesar said.

Carrie Boyert, 31, of suburban Brooklyn Heights, has a 4-year-old daughter in preschool and said she disagreed with the judge’s ruling. “I don’t think sexual offenders should be allowed to live anywhere near a school,” she said.

Boyert watches her daughter closely because a convicted rapist works 1 mile away. “I can’t control where people work but I certainly don’t want my kids outside, or out of my sight, knowing that there’s a rapist that works down the street,” she said.

Next month the Ohio Supreme Court will hear arguments on a similar challenge by a sex offender – convicted in 1995 and 1999 in Cincinnati – who argues he shouldn’t have been forced to move.