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A Corpus Christi, Texas judge wants area residents to know there are sex offenders in their midst. But an effort by Judge J. Manuel Ba�ales of the 105th District Court to alert the community has sparked an uproar, with a defense group decrying as unconstitutional his order requiring 14 people to post signs in their yards and on their cars announcing they are sex offenders. Meanwhile, a children’s advocate defends the move as a way to protect kids. Ba�ales summoned several dozen sex offenders to his court on May 18 to impose new conditions of probation. He ordered 14 of them to post signs in their yards that say, “Danger: Registered Sex Offender Lives Here” and put similar signs on their vehicles. The rest were told to send letters to neighbors within a three-block radius telling them they were sex offenders and listing their address. Gerald Rogen, a Corpus Christi sole practitioner and president of the Coastal Bend Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, says the judge went too far. State law requires sex offenders to register with the local police; school officials in their neighborhoods are also informed about them. In many cases, neighbors within a certain radius of sex offenders also are notified by mail of their address and description. Only two of the probationers had lawyers with them at the May 18 hearing, Rogen says. Since then, he has taken the cases of three of the probationers and plans to appeal the new requirements to the judge. If that request is turned down, he says he’ll probably go to the 13th Court of Appeals in Corpus Christi. “It’s madness,” says Rogen. “We think it [the order] is overbroad and harms the entire family.” But Kim French, community relations coordinator for the Nueces County Children’s Advocacy Center, which works with victims of sexual abuse, says her group supports the move. “It may not be the perfect solution,” she says. “But it’s a step in the direction we want to go. A lot of people don’t know how many sex offenders we have living among us.” Ba�ales says he decided to review the probation conditions imposed on sex offenders after talking to probation officers about their concerns. Texas’ sex offender law doesn’t specifically list signs as one way of notifying neighbors, he says, but adds, “I thought that was a reasonable extension of the purpose and meaning of the law.” The judge says he handled each case individually and informed each probationer that he or she had a right to an attorney. The requirements are a way to protect the community, he adds. Nueces County District Attorney Carlos Valdez did not return three phones calls seeking comment as of press time. The judge does have the best interest of the community in mind, Rogen believes, but he says this new probation requirement is unreasonable. He notes that most of these sex offenders were put on probation under a plea agreement that the victim agreed to. “We feel this is cruel and unusual punishment not just of the offender but also the offender’s family, he says. In addition, property values in the entire neighborhood will go down once a sign goes up, he says. J. Douglas Tinker, a Corpus Christi attorney now representing one of the probationers, calls the judge’s action outrageous. He says landlords renting to probationers won’t want the signs going up on their property. “I don’t think it will stand up,” he says of the order. “The problem is the damage being done while this thing is being appealed.” According to a May 24 article in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, one probationer overdosed on muscle relaxants a few days after being ordered to put up the signs and was rushed to the hospital. The man’s co-workers told the newspaper he was distraught over the order and was being evicted from his apartment for failing to report the offense on his lease application. This is not the first time a judge in Texas has ordered a sex offender to put up a sign. Fort Worth Judge Sharen Wilson of the 1st District Court in 1996 ordered a Lewisville man to advertise his crime with a sign. Then-Texas Attorney General Dan Morales later issued an opinion saying Wilson had the authority to make the order under the discretion granted to judges in setting supervision requirements. PROPERTY VALUES French says her group wants no harm to come to anyone and agrees that the effect on property values is a problem that must be resolved. However, she applauds the judge’s action. “We have to weigh both sides of it,” she says. “These people make a choice to plead out and take probation rather than go to trial. If we’re not going to put them in jail, we have to do something.” The signs could be educational by alerting parents to the need to watch their children carefully, French says. Ba�ales notes that many of the offenders were able to enter into a plea agreement and get probation because of the difficulty in trying a case based on the victim’s young age or trauma suffered. And although the sex crime might be their first conviction, many sex offenders admit to having molested children on previous occasions until they finally got caught, he says.

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