The Jindal administration plans to seek legislators’ approval Friday for spending $500,000 to kickstart a law designed to instill stronger monitoring requirements for allegedly sexually violent and child predators.
At issue is how to provide legal representation for convicted sex offenders in a court hearing that determines whether — upon release from prison — they must wear an electronic ankle bracelet and allow the state to scroll through their Internet history files.
The problem, part of a larger legal battle, stalled the court hearings. The Jindal administration said 13 offenders who could be considered sexually violent or child predators already are out of prison awaiting a court hearing that was supposed to take place six months before their release.
Gov. Bobby Jindal said he is going to the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget instead of waiting for next year’s session because he wants the cases to move forward. The committee can approve state spending outside of session.
“The reality is the law was not clear on which attorney should represent these sex offenders,” Jindal said. “Since the session ended, the public defender’s office has agreed to do that. ... We’ve agreed to provide them with that funding.”
The legal battle and funding problems caused delays in the Sex Offender Assessment Panel process aimed at subjecting certain offenders to electronic monitoring and other requirements.
Six months before their release from prison, sex offenders are reviewed by SOAP, whose members include state Department of Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc, to determine whether they pose a threat to public safety because they are sexually violent or a child predator.
If SOAP determines the offender is a risk, the case moves to state district court, where a judge decides whether additional monitoring requirements are needed.
Two years ago, SOAP decided West Baton Rouge Parish resident Francis Phillip Tullier was sexually violent and a child predator.
Tullier was arrested in 1997 and charged with more than 500 counts of molestation involving six young girls.
Tullier agreed to undergo physical castration, a procedure that was carried out last year.
The state’s higher courts took a closer look at the SOAP process based on the complaints of then-soon-to-be-released convicted sex offenders Bryan Golston, Paul Baker, Calvin Watson, Lloyd Dell and Reginald Jackson.
A number of issues were raised, including a lower court’s determination that state law failed to “outline whether an offender has a right to a psychological evaluation and who is to pay for it, or to provide a mechanism by which the court may appoint counsel.”
The Louisiana Supreme Court ultimately ruled in July 2011 that the law concerning the SOAP process was sound.
Still, the issue lingered of who was to pay for the sex offenders’ legal representation.
In August, the Louisiana Public Defender Board requested legislators’ authority to spend $500,000 to fund legal representation at court hearings for an estimated 20 sex offenders deemed by SOAP to pose a threat to the public.
The problem was the Public Defender Board only had $215,000 on hand for expert review and testimony and contract attorneys, leaving a $285,000 gap.
Roger Harris, general counsel for the board, said the lack of funding was a concern because sex offenders cannot be kept in prison past their release dates just because there is not enough money to pursue additional monitoring requirements.
“It ends up creating a public safety concern, because the whole purpose for the SOAP hearing is to determine who does or who does not pose a risk to society,” he said.
With the Jindal administration finding the needed funding, the board’s money problems will be resolved, Harris said.
Pam Laborde, spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections, said SOAP is waiting for a court hearing to be scheduled on 28 cases recommended for judicial review. Of those, she said, 15 are incarcerated while the rest either are under probation officers’ supervision or are registered as sex offenders. Two now live in Texas. Another lives in Tennessee.
The governor’s spokesman, Kyle Plotkin, said all released sex offenders in Louisiana must register with law enforcement and notify their neighbors of their convictions.
“(The governor) signed this law in 2009 and it’s disappointing that certain sex offenders delayed implementation of this law by tying it up in litigation for about three years. Now that the litigation is resolved, we strongly encourage the court to prioritize the hearings for the offenders that have been released,” Plotkin said.