NEW ORLEANS (AP) – A federal judge refused Wednesday to dismiss a class-action lawsuit that seeks to have removed from the state’s sex offender registry roughly 400 people who were convicted of soliciting oral or anal sex for money under Louisiana’s “crime against nature by solicitation” law.
U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman ruled in April that the names of nine plaintiffs who were convicted of the same offense must be stricken from the registry. A separate suit, filed after Feldman issued his decision, says the ruling should be applied to anyone in the same position.
Louisiana Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell’s office urged Feldman to dismiss the latest suit, arguing that a recent change in state law leaves the potential class members without any valid claims.
Feldman rejected that request after challenging Phyllis Glazer, a lawyer for Caldwell’s office, to explain why the hundreds of potential class members aren’t immediately entitled to the same relief as the nine plaintiffs who sued last year.
“Sometimes I wonder if anything the state has done in this case has passed the laugh test,” he said.
Feldman expressed frustration at the pace of the process for deciding whether people already have a right to have their names removed from the registry
“I am incredulous and very concerned about why this process has been dragged out against the backdrop of politics for so long,” he said.
The state Legislature amended the 200-year-old law last year so that anyone convicted of a “crime against nature by solicitation” no longer will be required to register. But the legislative change didn’t apply to the nine original plaintiffs or roughly 484 other people statewide who already were registered.
Feldman’s earlier ruling said state lawmakers had no “rational basis” for requiring people to register as sex offenders if they were convicted of violating the law. The judge said the plaintiffs wouldn’t have had to register if instead they had been convicted of soliciting sex for money under the state prostitution law.
Several weeks after that ruling, state lawmakers changed the law again. Glazer said the change requires people to prove they didn’t solicit sex from a minor before they can be removed from the registry.
“The Legislature made a concerted effort to provide relief to the people it applied to,” she said.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Bill Quigley said virtually all of the potential class members are people who were arrested in sting operations for soliciting sex from undercover police officers.
“It’s never a minor,” he said in an interview after the hearing.
Quigley said dozens of people already have gone to court since Feldman’s April ruling and successfully petitioned to have their names removed from the registry, but many don’t have the means to follow suit.
Feldman said he has tried to bring a “commonsense approach” to his review of the case.
“Equal protection of the law in not rocket science. It’s commonsense,” he said.