Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Class-Action Lawsuit filed against Nebraska for improper treatment of out-of-state juvenile registrants

When bad laws ruin lives, the least a government can do is compensate those whose lives were ruined.

Lawsuit filed on behalf of juveniles placed on sex offender list
LORI PILGER Lincoln Journal Star Jan 31, 2018

The attorney who successfully sued to keep a 15-year-old boy's name off the state's sex offender registry now is seeking to file a class-action lawsuit for those who the Nebraska State Patrol did list.

Attorney Joshua Weir said it ruined the lives of the seven -- listed only as Johnny Doe I through VII -- and dozens of others.

"It's been devastating," one said Tuesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

He's no longer on the registry. But, in his late 30s, he got a letter from the state saying he had to register. He then landed on the registry, alongside adult sexual predators, for playing doctor with a girl when he was a prepubescent, 12-year-old boy, he said.

It wreaked havoc on his life. Suddenly, he couldn't get a job working with cattle and has been made out to be a monster. One night, a stranger pulled up to his home and came to the door, intimidating his wife, yelling he had a right to talk to her husband.

"Everybody makes poor choices. Some make worse choices than others. But holding those poor choices against a child is absolutely irresponsible," he said.

In the lawsuit filed this week in U.S. District Court in Omaha, his attorney, Weir, said the seven were among 74 who the State Patrol removed from the registry last August, four days after the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the 15-year-old Nebraska boy, whose family sued to block the State Patrol from putting him on the list for something he did in Minnesota when he was 11.

The boy in the case was adjudicated in juvenile court there for criminal sexual conduct. A Minnesota judge ordered him to complete probation, counseling and community service, and his name went on a part of that state's predatory offender list that is visible only to police.

Nebraska's registry excludes juveniles unless they are prosecuted criminally in adult court.

But, when he moved to Nebraska to live with relatives, the State Patrol determined by a plain reading of the statute he should be on the public registry.

The attorney general's office conceded if he had done in Nebraska exactly what he did in Minnesota, he wouldn't have been required to register but interpreted the state law to mean all sex offenders who move here must register, regardless of age.

Senior U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf disagreed, saying it made no sense to believe Nebraska statutes were intended to be more punitive to juveniles adjudicated elsewhere than those who go through the system here.

When the state appealed, the 8th Circuit agreed.

Soon after, a State Patrol attorney notified 74 people, including the seven in the civil rights lawsuit filed Monday, that they no longer were subject to the Nebraska Sex Offender Registration Act.

And Sen. Carol Blood has introduced a bill to make the language more clear to exclude from the registry anyone adjudicated as a juvenile.

But, Weir alleges, the damage already was done.

One of his clients, put on the list for an adjudication when he was 12, wasn't allowed to attend public school with his peers because he was on the registry. At least two were incarcerated for failing to register. Two have been homeless.

The lawsuit seeks compensation for lost earning capacity and wages, among other things, as well as punitive damages.

Asked what he hopes to come of the lawsuit, Weir's client, who is 42 now, said he's not looking for a paycheck, though he admits he'd like to get enough money so he and his family can move.

Mostly, he said, "I'm hoping that this never happens to anybody else again."

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