Florida county settles lawsuit over sex offenders’ access to county commission meetings

Brevard County Florida has agreed to settle a federal lawsuit involving the right of convicted sex offenders to attend County Commission meetings.

As part of the settlement, the county agreed to pay damages of $2,500 each to the plaintiffs ― sex offenders Charles Munsey Jr., Vincent Rinaldi and Charles Violi ― plus pay $150,000 for plaintiffs’ attorney fees.

The lawsuit filed in January 2022 in U.S. District Court was triggered by a 2006 Brevard County ordinance that, with some exceptions, prohibits people on the sex offender registry from being within 1,000 feet of a school, day care center, park or playground. Violators are subject to up to 60 days in jail and up to a $500 fine.

Because the Brevard County Government Center in Viera is within 1,000 feet of a school — and the ordinance had no exceptions for attending public meetings — sex offenders were prohibited from attending County Commission meetings.

Legal action filed: 3 Brevard County registered sex offenders file federal lawsuit against county

The lawsuit alleged that, because of this, the county violated the First Amendment and Florida’s Government in the Sunshine Law.

After the lawsuit was filed, the County Commission changed the rule to allow an exception for attending commission meetings. But the lawsuit continued, until the plaintiffs and the county agreed to the settlement.

Appearing before commission: Registered sex offenders address county commission after rule changed to allow them

In commenting on the settlement, the plaintiffs’ lead attorney in the case, Ray Taseff of the Florida Justice Institute, said: “We’re happy that the Brevard County government is now truly open to everyone. Cities and counties should take note that they cannot restrict who attends their public meetings.”

Taseff added that “it is quite unfortunate that this lawsuit had to be filed in the first place.”

Another attorney for the plaintiffs in the case, Jessica Travis of the law firm DefendBrevard.com, said: “It is important that every single citizen be able to address their elected officials, regardless of who they are or what their background may be.”

Taseff noted that, before the County Commission carved out an exception for its meetings, the plaintiffs could not even address commissioners when the commission in 2020 was considering making sex offender ordinances more restrictive by barring offenders from entering within 1,000 feet of businesses where children typically congregate, a proposal that commissioners approved.

Brevard County Communications Director Don Walker said the county would have no comment on the settlement other than saying the payments of the legal fees and the payment to the plaintiffs would be covered by insurance.

After the County Commission modified the ordinance in March 2022 to allow sex offenders to come to County Commission meetings, the plaintiffs attended a May 17, 2022, meeting. During the public comment period, they spoke about how the remainder of the ordinance negatively affects their lives, such as restricting their ability to take loved ones to the hospital or attend events with their grandchildren.

By settling the lawsuit, the case did not go to trial, and no formal judicial ruling was issued.

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