News

Judge 'punts' Peasley issue

By ERICA JAHN

Staff writer

King County Superior Court Judge Laura Middaugh has declined to rule on constitutional questions brought forward by Concerned Citizens of Auburn and Federal Way, saying the issue is premature unless Peasley Canyon is actually chosen as a site for a transitional facility for sex offenders.

While Concerned Citizens expressed disappointment that Middaugh didn’t decide once and for all, at least the case wasn’t thrown out as meritless, said Yvonne Kinoshita Ward, the Auburn attorney representing the group.

“She punted, as we say in the business,” Ward said. “It was our strongest argument, which is kind of disappointing, but it’s kind of good to have this hanging over DSHS’ head.”

She added Concerned Citizens is confident its case is strong.

“If we would have lost, we would have lost (last Friday in Middaugh’s ruling),” Ward said. “That clearly shows the constitutional challenges have merit.”

Department of Social and Health Services spokesman Steve Williams said neither Concerned Citizens’ constitutional arguments nor Middaugh’s deferment will affect how DSHS proceeds with picking a site for the proposed sex offender facility, as the agency was ordered to do in federal court.

“The ruling (by Middaugh) does nothing, as far as we’re concerned,” Williams said.

As far as whether Middaugh’s decision not to throw out the case supports its merits, Williams said, “That sounds like speculation to me.”

Concerned Citizens met at the Regional Justice Center in Kent to ask Middaugh to examine the constitutionality of the Peasley Canyon site, which is located adjacent to a homeschool and playground operated by a family.

DSHS selected the Peasley Canyon location, a site on Orillia Road near SeaTac and a site on Grouse Ridge Road near North Bend as three potential places for a transitional facility to house Level 3 sex offenders. The offenders serve their prison sentences and become eligible for transition back into society after undergoing several phases of treatment at the Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island.

Courts consider them a high enough risk to reoffend that the men aren’t allowed directly back into society.

At the transitional facilities, the men are monitored by staff and transported to jobs and to appointments for counseling and treatment.

Proximity to risky areas, like public or private schools, libraries, parks, daycares, churches and other facilities where vulnerable people might congregate, precludes the state from siting a facility. The statute doesn’t specifically include homeschools.

Ward argued Friday that omitting homeschools from protection is unconstitutional because it forces families who homeschool with religious curricula to give up their rights —  to direct the education of their children and to religious freedom — in exchange for benefits offered to another group — in this case, for their kids to go to school in a safe place.

In other words, Ward argued, as the statute is written now, if the Peasley Canyon family wants their children to enjoy the same protection that students at state-sanctioned schools get, they’re going to have to send them to a public or private school in spite of their constitutional right to choose how they want to educate their kids.

“That’s why this is a huge issue,” Ward said. “Courts have repeatedly said you can’t force people to make these kinds of decisions.”

Concerned Citizens is continuing to build its case against the state and plans to file a lawsuit if the Peasley Canyon site is tapped for the facility. Ward said the group has a solid case against the state if that happens.

“We’re feeling pretty good about the issue at this time,” she said.

Staff writer Erica Jahn: 925-5565, ejahn@fedwaymirror.com

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