Monday, December 23, 2002
Court of Appeal Upholds Monrovia Daytime Curfew Ordinance
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
Monrovia’s first-in-the-nation daytime youth curfew ordinance is not preempted by state law giving school officials exclusive authority to enact anti-truancy measures, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled Friday.
The ordinance, hailed by then-President Bill Clinton during a 1996 speech in Monrovia as ‘the most effective crime measure yet,” prohibits minors subject to the state compulsory attendance laws from being on the public streets or in public places between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on school days.
There are a number of exemptions, so a minor is not in violation of the ordinance if in the company of a responsible adult, if on an emergency errand for a parent or guardian, if coming from or going to work or a doctor’s appointment, if in possession of a school-issued pass, or if authorized to be out of school pursuant to state or federal law.
A first offense carries a maximum fine of $127, or up to 27 hours of community service. The maximum fine for a second offense is $200, and subsequent violations can cost as much as $500 each.
The city concedes that children who are being home-schooled and who have parental consent to be out in public are not in violation of the ordinance. But two of the plaintiffs in the suit ruled on Friday, home students Jesse and Benedict Harrahill, claimed to have been stopped, interrogated and temporarily detained on at least 20 occasions.
The plaintiffs’ lead attorney is Michael Farris, chairman and general counsel of the Virgina-based Home School Legal Defense Association. Farris is a prominent spokesman for religious conservatives and was the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor of Virginia in 1993.
Farris was assisted in the case by Andrew W. Zepeda and Donna M. Dean of the Beverly Hills firm Lurie, Zepeda, Schmalz & Hogan. Monrovia was represented by its city attorney, Craig A. Steele of Richards, Watson & Gershon, and by Mitchell E. Abbott and Patrick K. Bobko of that firm.
An earlier version of the law was struck down by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Carolyn Kuhl. But Superior Court Judge Irving Feffer upheld the amended version concluding that it was a “police power ordinance” rather than a “truancy ordinance.”
Justice Orville Armstrong, writing Friday for a divided panel in Div. Five, agreed.
“We agree with plaintiffs that compulsory attendance and truancy enforcement are within the educational power of the state, and cannot be drawn under the police power of a municipality,” the justice said. “However, the Ordinance, on its face, does not seek to compel school attendance or to enforce truancy provisions. Rather, the Ordinance simply states that a minor who is subject to the compulsory education laws and who is absent from school without excuse between the designated hours will be subject to citation if the minor chooses to be unsupervised in a public place within the City of Monrovia.”
A truant who stays at home, or leaves the city, is not subject to sanction by Monrovia under the ordinance, the justice noted.
If, as plaintiffs complain, they are being cited at school by police officers who have been contacted by school authorities, this is improper under the terms of the ordinance, Armstrong said. But improper enforcement must be addressed in an “as-applied” challenge and “has no bearing on a facial challenge to [the law’s] validity,” the jurist wrote.
Justice Margaret Grignon concurred. Justice Richard Mosk, however, dissented.
The dissenting justice argued that the penalties in the ordinance are more severe than those the state imposes for what amounts, in essence, to the same conduct.
Citing Patton v. Governing Board, (1978) 77 Cal.App.3d 495, the justice wrote:
“I recognize that the Monrovia ordinance may be an effective method to combat the problem of truancy. Yet, ‘education is a statewide concern and the Legislature is vested by the Constitution with the ultimate control over school matters.’—Here the Legislature has promulgated a system that it believes is the best way to deal with truancy. Monrovia, and other cities, however well-intentioned, should not, without appropriate legislative blessing, be able to impose methods inconsistent with those of the state to handle truants.”
The case is Harrahill v. City of Monrovia, B150951.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company