C O V E R S T O R Y
On January 27, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Carolyn Kuhl struck down the Monrovia, California, daytime curfew ordinance which had once been praised by President Clinton as a model for the nation. Home School Legal Defense Associations suit against this ordinance was filed in April 1997 on behalf of Donald and Rosemary Harrahill, home schooling parents, and four families whose children attend a private Christian school.
Kuhl did not reach the parental rights, freedom of religion, and right to travel arguments raised by HSLDA since she found that the ordinance failed a preliminary test under the California state preemption doctrine. This rule, based on the California constitution, holds that any local ordinance is invalid if it duplicates or contradicts state lawor if it enters a field that the legislature has intended to regulate exclusively at the state level. HSLDA argued that the ordinance was invalid under all three branches of the preemption doctrine.
Kuhl, who had served as the Deputy Attorney General of the United States under Edwin Meese, found that Monrovias ordinance contradicted state law because it made it illegal for students to be out in public in instances where it was lawful under state law. She specifically reserved ruling on the larger question of whether California cities have any power to regulate truancy in light of the pervasive state legislative scheme. She said that HSLDAs arguments on this point were substantial, hinting that a mere change in the City ordinance to fix the initial inconsistencies might not survive a further challenge.
Home School Legal Defense Association President Michael Farris, who argued the case on several occasions in Judge Kuhls court, said, We are happy that the judge struck down the ordinance since it represents an important first step in the battle for freedom from daytime curfewswhich have been historically recognized as a tool of martial law. Even though we would have wished for a ruling on a broader basis, Judge Kuhl approached this decision in the manner of a constitutional conservative. She invalidated the ordinance on the most limited basis, and properly reserved broader questions for the future.
Approximately 70 cities in California have adopted daytime curfews. Virtually all of these local ordinances have copied Monrovias on an essentially word-for-word basis. Michael Smith, HSLDAs vice president and a member of the California bar, has sent a letter to all of these cities urging them to stop enforcement of their ordinances in light of Judge Kuhls ruling.
Do Curfew Ordinances Work?
The substantive constitutional arguments gave HSLDA an opportunity to probe deeply into the claims raised by Monrovia Chief of Police Joseph Santoro. Santoro made repeated public claims that this local truancy ordinance had reduced dropouts, truancy, and juvenile crime. Press reports had simply parroted these claims without any effort to determine where Chief Santoro got his figures.
Santoro claimed that dropout rates had been reduced by 54 percent since the enactment of the ordinance. However, in deposition, neither the police department nor the school district could figure out where this number came from. The California Department of Education supplied the official statistic: Dropouts actually increased by 37.5 percent in Monrovia during the relevant time period.
Before our lawsuit was filed, Chief Santoro made repeated public claims that daytime crime had been reduced 49 percent by the enactment of the ordinance. When we began to scrutinize the computation of this figure, the City quickly found that this number had been calculated incorrectly and reduced their claim to a 29-percent reduction in serious offenses and an 11-percent drop for all other crimes during the relevant period. But HSLDA found that there were still substantial errors in the assumptions used to make this calculation. The City and the Citys expert witnesses relied on general crime statistics that deal with the number of crimes reported.
The problem was this:
We demanded that the City produce statistics on juvenile arrests and based on these figures, we, together with our expert witnesses, compiled the first statistics which were actually able to show trends in juvenile crimes during the days and hours the daytime curfew was in effect. We calculated crime statistics based exclusively on juvenile arrests for crimes committed:
- The City included days when school was not in session and therefore the curfew was not enforced;
- The City included hours both before and after the hours of the curfew; and
- The City used figures for reported crimes which gave no reliable information concerning juvenile crime because it is impossible to tell the age of the perpetrator.
This evidence demonstrated that while Monrovias general crime rate was going downjuvenile arrests were upway up.
- Only on school days;
- Only for crime committed during the curfew period; and
- Only crimes committed by juveniles (by definition).
Serious daytime juvenile crime went up 68 percent from 199394 to 9697.
Miscellaneous daytime juvenile crime went up 500 percent.
Total juvenile arrests for all categoriesexcluding violations of the curfew ordinancewere up 115 percent.
Round Two: Ready to Begin
Only 22 days after Judge Kuhls decision, Monrovias City Council amended its ordinance to change the portions of the local law which she had found to be in conflict with state law. However, this amendment did not change the bigger arguments on preemption that the judge had warned the City were substantial in nature.
Since the amended ordinance is brand new, we have no record of repeated police stops, unlike the over 20 encounters the Harrahill boys had experienced under the initial ordinance. Therefore, we do not yet have standing to raise the substantive constitutional arguments. Instead, we will file another lawsuit based solely on taxpayer standing (the Harrahills as taxpayers do not want city money spent on an illegal ordinance) and argue the broader doctrine of preemption. We will raise the parental rights and other constitutional arguments in the event any home school student is arrested under this new ordinance or any copycat ordinance in another California city.