January 5, 2022. Today, the Florida Justice Institute (FJI), in partnership with Brevard County attorney Jessica J. Travis of DefendBrevard.com, filed a lawsuit challenging a Brevard County ordinance that prohibits people on the sex offender registry from attending County Commission meetings at the County Government Center in Viera, Florida. The ordinance prohibits the Plaintiffs, and all registered offenders, from being within 1000 feet of a school, daycare center, park, or playground. The County Government building is within 1000 feet of a school, and therefore the Plaintiffs are prohibited from entering the building to attend public meetings. The lawsuit alleges that this prohibition violates the Plaintiffs’ First Amendment right to free speech and to petition for redress of grievances, and also violates Florida’s Government in the Sunshine law by holding a public meeting that is not fully open to the public. Plaintiffs are also seeking an immediate preliminary injunction to end enforcement of the unconstitutional ordinance so they are permitted to attend future meetings.
The Plaintiffs are Vincent Rinaldi, Charles Munsey, and Charles Violi. They are longtime residents and homeowners of Brevard County who long ago completed all aspects of their criminal sentences. They are active in civil affairs but cannot attend county government meetings and speak directly to their representatives on any topic.
“Everyone has a right to attend county government meetings and speak to their elected representatives in public,” said Ray Taseff, lead attorney with the Florida Justice Institute. “The County cannot restrict this right to an entire class of persons based on past crimes.”
The Complaint explains how the Plaintiffs were prohibited from attending a County Commission meeting to speak about a proposed law that was particularly important to them: an amendment to the ordinance that imposed even more restrictions on where registered offenders are permitted to be. In the summer of 2020, the County Commission considered and passed this amendment, and yet the people most affected by it—the Plaintiffs and all registered offenders—were not permitted to attend the meetings to offer their views. The County Commission was notified that people who would be affected wanted to be heard, but the Brevard County Sheriff’s Department had advised that attending the meeting would place registered offenders in violation of the ordinance. The County Commission passed the amended ordinance without hearing directly from one affected person at the meeting.
“This law distorts the democratic process by silencing the voices of people whom the County doesn’t like,” said Jessica J. Travis, one of the Plaintiffs’ attorneys. “But the First Amendment and the Florida Sunshine laws demand more transparency.”
The case is Rinaldi et al. v. Brevard County, Case No. 22-CV-XXX in the Middle District of Florida. For more information, contact Ray Taseff, email@example.com, 786-342-6919.