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Rapist Fights Eviction in Costa Mesa

1-8-1999 California:

Courts: Landlord acted after fliers from police and complaints by tenants. The case tests the limits of Megan's Law, which allows for notifying neighbors of a 'high-risk' sex offender's presence.

A convicted rapist who faces eviction from his Costa Mesa apartment complex after police distributed fliers warning neighbors of his presence is fighting to keep his home in a case that tests the limits of Megan's Law.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Geoffrey T. Glass is considering the case, which marks a rare occasion in which a sex offender has fought to stay in his neighborhood despite the uproar.

Legal experts say it could trigger several rounds of legal battles as courts wrestle with trying to balance the constitutional rights of former convicts with the community's right to protect itself against potential harm.

Under Megan's Law, police agencies are permitted to inform citizens when a "high risk" sex offender is living near them. But it also sets limits on how the information is used and prohibits discrimination or harassment against the offender.

"This illustrates how Megan's Law, which allows only the dissemination of information, can be potentially used to attempt to remove a person from a neighborhood," said Robert Pugsley, a professor at the Southwestern University College of Law.

"Some court will have to reconcile the policy behind the law with the sometimes practical outcomes of the law, which can lead to harassment or the removal of a person from a living place," he added.

At the center of the case is Chris Decker, 44, who in September was ordered to move from the two-bedroom, West Wilson Street apartment he shares with a roommate. The notice came one day after Costa Mesa police distributed fliers in the area that identified him as a sex offender.

Decker's attorney, T. Matthew Phillips, argued in court this week that the threatened eviction constituted an unjustified, "vigilante" reprisal against a man who had paid his debt to society and wanted to live in peace.

Decker, who was convicted of the 1977 rape of a Garden Grove woman, was paying his $795 rent on time and lived without incident for seven months in the 24-unit apartment complex, Phillips said.

Decker's landlord, Robert Stellrecht Jr., said in court that he felt an obligation to protect his tenants, several of whom he said had expressed concern about Decker.

He said tenants, most of them female, had complained about unwanted sexual advances and uninvited touching from Decker. Phillips strongly denies the charges, calling them "phantom" complaints designed to help get his client evicted.

The landlord said no reason was needed to give Decker a 30-day notice because Decker had a month-to-month lease. But he did say the complaints and the Megan's Law fliers influenced his decision. ..Source.. by RICHARD MAROSI

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