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JUDGE BLOCKS L.A. PANHANDLING LAW.

Byline: Rick Orlov Daily News Staff Writer

Efforts by Los Angeles officials to crack down on aggressive panhandling were dealt a setback Thursday when a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the law.

Federal Judge Richard Paez issued the order late in the day after reviewing arguments by the city and the American Civil Liberties Union. Paez issued no comment so it was unclear whether he would set the matter for trial or issue a summary judgment.

The ordinance carries a penalty of up to a $500 fine and six months in jail, but the city is awaiting guidelines from the Los Angeles Police Department before beginning enforcement.

The law would have prohibited panhandlers from soliciting donations on government property, near automated teller machines or while people wait in lines for movies, theaters or restaurants.

But the ACLU argued that the ordinance interferes with the panhandlers' constitutionally-protected right to free speech.

``This law is nothing more than a mean-spirited attempt by the city of Los Angeles to infringe on the free speech rights of the less fortunate,'' said ACLU attorney Peter Eliasberg.

``There are laws currently on the books to stop people from dangerous, harassing and abusive behavior. This law is unnecessary grandstanding and only chills speech, which is constitutionally protective,'' he said.

Mayor Richard Riordan, who joined City Attorney James Hahn in proposing the ordinance, said abusive panhandling ``compromises the safety and livability of Los Angeles communities.''

``Just recently a tourist was murdered by a panhandler who demanded 25 cents from the victim,'' he said. ``There is no question there is a need for this ordinance. The law-abiding citizens of Los Angeles - and the thousands of tourists who visit our city - deserve to be able to walk our streets without fear for their well-being.''

Hahn said he was disappointed with the ruling and would be reviewing it with the City Council in the near future to determine the next course of action.

Councilman Joel Wachs, who carried the proposal through the City Council, said he wasn't surprised by the ruling.

``Any time the ACLU gets involved, it's going to be difficult,'' Wachs said. ``But, the fact of the matter is, I believe this law is constitutional. We checked out those laws on the books in dozens of other cities and this is a reasonable measure.''

Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg, who opposed the measure, said she never felt it was needed.

``All this was doing was criminalizing the poor,'' Goldberg said.``No one wants to be abused or harassed. But we already have the laws on the books to prevent that. All we have to do is enforce what is out there.''
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 31, 1997
Words:444
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