What’s the difference?

August 4, 2008
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This post comes from IL reporter Michael Hoskins: 

On one hand, the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana argues against blanket, government-imposed rules restricting where sex offenders can live and places those registered individuals can visit. But when a private homeowners association takes a similar move, the line gets blurry and the civil liberties group says there isn’t much it can do. Why? An HOA is a private entity, not a governmental body treading on a person’s constitutional rights.

The issue is coming up in Greenwood, where an HOA for a 175-home subdivision has taken a step believed the first of its kind in the state: amending its governing documents to ban offenders from living in that community’s homes. Communities in Texas and Kansas City have put similar policies in place. Now, as part of the covenants, the association can evict any sex offender who buys a home there, any current resident who’s convicted of a felony sex crime in the future, or any owner who rents or sells to a sex offender. More than three-fourths of the residents voted in favor of the measure.

The legal director of the ACLU of Indiana points out that while this doesn’t appear to be a constitutional issue since offenders aren’t part of any protected class, this is a “terrible idea and policy.” Residency restrictions are already in place for registered offenders, and taking actions like this could push courts to view this as some sort of de facto punishment if a legal challenge arises, Ken Falk says.

A common theme among all these restrictions and bans on registered sex offenders is that each has a noble purpose at the heart: to protect the safety of children. But courts are wrapped up in many of these controversies, including issues regarding who’s required to register, what restrictions can be put in place, and how these regulations can be enforced. The legal community doesn’t have consensus, all the while more restrictions are being implemented. What’s the difference in this case from the others, and should it matter whether it’s a private or public entity imposing a restriction?
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  2. Mr. Levin says that the BMV engaged in misconduct--that the BMV (or, rather, someone in the BMV) knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged fees but did nothing to correct the situation. Such misconduct, whether engaged in by one individual or by a group, is called theft (defined as knowingly or intentionally exerting unauthorized control over the property of another person with the intent to deprive the other person of the property's value or use). Theft is a crime in Indiana (as it still is in most of the civilized world). One wonders, then, why there have been no criminal prosecutions of BMV officials for this theft? Government misconduct doesn't occur in a vacuum. An individual who works for or oversees a government agency is responsible for the misconduct. In this instance, somebody (or somebodies) with the BMV, at some time, knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged. What's more, this person (or these people), even after having the error of their ways pointed out to them, did nothing to fix the problem. Instead, the overcharges continued. Thus, the taxpayers of Indiana are also on the hook for the millions of dollars in attorneys fees (for both sides; the BMV didn't see fit to avail itself of the services of a lawyer employed by the state government) that had to be spent in order to finally convince the BMV that stealing money from Indiana motorists was a bad thing. Given that the BMV official(s) responsible for this crime continued their misconduct, covered it up, and never did anything until the agency reached an agreeable settlement, it seems the statute of limitations for prosecuting these folks has not yet run. I hope our Attorney General is paying attention to this fiasco and is seriously considering prosecution. Indiana, the state that works . . . for thieves.

  3. I'm glad that attorney Carl Hayes, who represented the BMV in this case, is able to say that his client "is pleased to have resolved the issue". Everyone makes mistakes, even bureaucratic behemoths like Indiana's BMV. So to some extent we need to be forgiving of such mistakes. But when those mistakes are going to cost Indiana taxpayers millions of dollars to rectify (because neither plaintiff's counsel nor Mr. Hayes gave freely of their services, and the BMV, being a state-funded agency, relies on taxpayer dollars to pay these attorneys their fees), the agency doesn't have a right to feel "pleased to have resolved the issue". One is left wondering why the BMV feels so pleased with this resolution? The magnitude of the agency's overcharges might suggest to some that, perhaps, these errors were more than mere oversight. Could this be why the agency is so "pleased" with this resolution? Will Indiana motorists ever be assured that the culture of incompetence (if not worse) that the BMV seems to have fostered is no longer the status quo? Or will even more "overcharges" and lawsuits result? It's fairly obvious who is really "pleased to have resolved the issue", and it's not Indiana's taxpayers who are on the hook for the legal fees generated in these cases.

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