ACLU files curfew suit against Lake Oswego


The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Lake Oswego Wednesday, challenging the city's curfew law as unconstitutional.

The ACLU is filing the lawsuit on behalf of four Lake Oswego High School juniors who asked the city council in December to scrap the curfew as part of a class project.

Although the council was receptive to the students' request, it has not taken action to abolish the ordinance. Instead, it asked the group to meet with the city's youth council to potentially change the language of the law, which is modeled after the state curfew.

'When the council asked them to work on amending (the law), it became clear quickly that (council members) didn't have an interest in dealing with fundamental constitutional issues,' said David Fidanque, executive director of the Oregon ACLU.

At a press conference held Wednesday at the Jordan Schrader PC law office in Lake Oswego, Fidanque said a lawsuit is necessary to move the issue forward.

The suit seeks a 'declaration that the curfew law is unconstitutional; a preliminary and eventually permanent injunction of the law; and reasonable attorney fees.'

City Manager Douglas Schmitz and Mayor Judie Hammerstad are named as defendants.

'It was my hope that the students would be able to point out what they felt was unconstitutionally vague in our ordinance so we could adjust it and they could get an experience in how government works, but it turned out their only interest was in abolishing it,' said Hammerstad.

The students - Paul Trompke, Kyle Hayes, Hanna Piazza and Taylor Goldsmith - chose to pursue the curfew ordinance in their Political Action Seminar class.

Portland attorney David Silverman has volunteered to work with the students through the ACLU.

Along with the ACLU, they maintain that the curfew violates a teenager's constitutional right to move about freely in public space.

It also usurps parents' rights to direct and control their children and gives police unlimited discretion to arrest young people who are not engaged in illegal activity, they said.

'It's pretty clear that the curfew goes too far,' Silverman said, adding it gives police the right to enforce laws as they see fit, even discriminating by race or age.

Last year, Lake Oswego officers cited 19 teens for violating the curfew law. Penalties include fines and detention.

'We don't want to be afraid to be out at night and get arrested just because we're young,' Trompke said.

The ACLU believes that the Lake Oswego Police Department already has the authority and resources it needs to intervene when minors commit crimes.

The existing ordinance forbids children younger than 14 to be on city streets between 9:15 p.m. and 6 a.m. Those ages 14 to 18 can be out for an hour later Sunday through Thursday and until midnight on Friday and Saturday and during summer break.

Exceptions to the law include teens attending night school, working late-night jobs or engaging in any 'entertainment.' Fidanque noted that the ACLU finds the latter phrase 'incredibly vague.'

ACLU officials plan to work as long as it takes to get the city curfew abolished and has added LOHS freshman Paul Bonney to its list of plaintiffs in case it takes several years.

Juvenile curfew is an issue that the civil rights organization has pursued legally for many years, Fidanque added. Recent court decisions in Connecticut, Washington and New Jersey have struck down curfew laws.

'If the city changed its mind, we would be delighted with the outcome and we would look elsewhere,' Fidanque said. 'If the city decides to challenge these allegations, this could go on for some time.'

Hammerstad said the city could fall back on state law if its ordinance is struck down. She said any decisions would involve public hearings.

Editor's note: While an official press release from the ACLU said that the organization's press conference was held at the Jordan Schrader PC law office, it was actually held in the same building but in a conference room on a different floor.