Families stunned that towns repealed sex offender laws

Residents of some small towns are frustrated to see the towns repealing sex offender laws to avoid a legal battle. Todd Unger reports from Justin.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story said there was more than 15 sex offenders living within Justin city limits. There are more than 15 offenders with Justin addresses but not all of them reside strictly within town limits.

JUSTIN, Texas — Parents in this community southwest of Denton expressed outrage and disappointment Wednesday after learning that Justin is one of a growing number of small towns that have decided to repeal their sex offender ordinances to avoid a legal battle.

The City Council made the decision in December.  There are more than 15 convicted sex offenders with addresses in Justin, according to the state's online registry.

LINK: Texas Public Sex Offender Registry

"We hadn't heard a thing about it," said Cody Barlow, a father of four.

Barlow lives on a busy neighborhood street not far from a school in town.  Previously, sex offenders would have been prevented from living in that immediate area because it's within 1,000 feet of a school and playground.

But now — because the local ordinance was removed from the books — there is no longer any restriction.

"We didn't choose Dallas. We didn't choose Fort Worth.  We chose Justin," Barlow said. "We left L.A. [initially] to have a small town atmosphere."

Justin isn't the only town facing a dilemma.

As WFAA first reported on Tuesday, close to 45 Texas towns with populations of less than 5,000 people are facing a legal challenge to their local ordinances.

Denton attorney Richard Gladden recently filed a string of lawsuits across the state on behalf of the group Texas Voices for Reason and Justice alleging that a little-known opinion issued by then-Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott in 2007 disallows towns of under 5,000 (considered "general law" towns) from establishing sex offender residency restrictions.

Gladden said about 20 towns have voluntarily stripped their laws to avoid a lawsuit. About a dozen are currently being sued, while the remainder should be served shortly, he added.

In Johnson County, the town of Alvarado elected to repeal its sex offender residency ordinance on Monday night. Town manager Clint Davis said residents have expressed concern, although some understand mounting a legal challenge might not be a good use of the municipality's money.

"They're disappointed that we're not able to regulate our own town," Davis said.  

He said there had been about 40 sex offenders residing in Alvarado at one time. Due to the ordinance's distance restrictions — as well as mandatory sign postings by offenders at Halloween — Davis said only about a dozen offenders remained until the legal challenge surfaced.

Other North Texas towns that recently repealed sex offender restrictions include Hutchins, Whitney and Hubbard.

Not every town is backing down, though.

Krum, Ponder, Westworth Village and Farmersville in Collin County are all currently being sued, and plan to see how the legal process plays out.

It's important to note the legal challenge isn't targeted toward cities with more than 5,000 residents, which are considered "home rule" communities.

There is also no impact on restrictions or conditions imposed by the courts for offenders on probation or parole.

Still, some residents in Justin are confused.

"So once they're off parole, there are no restrictions here now?" asked Kari Mendoza.

She heard about the change this week.  Her family's home is only a stone's throw away from a school field.

"I know the city is afraid to be sued, but where are our rights?" 

Justin officials declined to comment  on Wednesday, saying they can't discuss potential litigation. 


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