Nassau County has won a reversal of a state court ruling and can continue to ban convicted sex offenders from living near schools.
"This was unanimous and a complete and total victory," County Attorney John Ciampoli said of the decision last week by a three-judge state appellate panel.
Michael Diack, 36, a Level 1 registered sex offender, was convicted in 2001 of possessing child pornography and served a 22-month sentence. He was arrested in 2011 and charged with living about 500 feet from the Lawrence-Woodmere Hebrew Academy in Woodmere, but challenged the county law and won. He argued that state law, which did not include those not under supervision, superseded the sterner county law.
But the appellate court reversed that decision, ruling state lawmakers had no intent to "prohibit localities from adopting laws concerning residency restrictions for sex offenders who are no longer on probation, [or] parole supervision."
Diack's lawyer, Kathy Manley of Albany, said last week's appellate decision will be appealed. "The courts have ruled over and over again that the state law pre-empts any local law. This decision was a mistake," she said.
Suffolk County has a law similar to Nassau's. The county has been in federal court fighting a challenge to its restriction since 2009, said Vanessa Baird-Streeter, a spokeswoman for County Executive Steve Bellone.
A 2005 state law bans all "supervised" sex offenders whose victims were minors from knowingly entering or living within 1,000 feet of a public, private or vocational school below college. The stricter county law allows officials to restrict offenders who are not on parole or probation. The state law does not.
Laura Ahern, who heads Parents for Megan's Law and the Crime Victims Center in Stony Brook, called the appellate decision "a tremendous victory for the community. The message is loud and clear -- the protection of children is a top priority."
When the original decision was issued by District Court Judge Valerie Alexander in March 2011, County Executive Edward Mangano called it "outrageous."
But Amol Sinha, Suffolk County director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, called last week's decision a bad one. "It expands the scope of residency restriction, which does nothing to advance public safety, the research shows," he said. "Instead, it makes significant burdens for those subject to it, as well as their families, sometimes forcing them into homelessness."