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The American Civil Liberties Union will face off with Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas in federal court Tuesday, alleging that the elected official committed an egregious abuse of government power by seeking a gang injunction.
At issue is a state court gang injunction approved by Orange County Superior Court Judge Kazuharu Makino in May 2009 aimed at about 80 alleged members of the Orange Varrio Cypress Street gang. It prohibits them from associating with one other, wearing gang clothing or being out between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.
Pictured above 2 enemies of the state:
Hector Villagra, director of the Orange County ACLU office, and staff attorney Belinda Escobosa Helzer are two of the attorneys handling the case
The ACLU sued Rackauckas and Orange Police Chief Robert Gustafson in September 2009 over the injunction, claiming the law enforcement agencies violated individuals' due process rights by seeking the injunction without giving individuals a fair hearing.
The nonprofit organization, which seeks to keep Rackauckas and Gustafson from enforcing the court order, also accuses prosecutors of selectively dismissing injunctions against individuals whose cases drew scrutiny from Makino but pursuing injunctions for defendants who never showed up in court to challenge the order, according to the group's trial brief filed last week.
"Defendants did not adhere to their obligations as public officials to act fairly, seek justice and uphold the Constitution,'' wrote ACLU attorney Belinda Escobosa Helzer.
Prosecutors stand by the injunction. Norman Watkins, a private attorney who represents the Orange County District Attorney's Office, said the injunction has made Orange a safer city.
"In wake of the Superior Court's anti-gang injunction, crime is down,'' Watkins wrote in a trial brief filed last week. "The neighborhood's quality of life has improved. And (the gang's) once-pervasive influence has markedly diminished."
Watkins also said prosecutors are only required to give notice but not required to give an individual a "pre-service hearing," before issuing an injunction.
"(The) plaintiff's federal case should be recognized as what it is – a backhanded attempt to 'appeal' a Superior Court order with which they disagree, without ever appearing in front of the state court judge who actually issued the order,'' Watkins wrote.
Rackauckas won the first round in the legal battle in November, when U.S. District Judge Valerie Baker Fairbank denied the ACLU's motion for a preliminary injunction. Fairbank will be presiding over the monthlong trial, which will be held in Los Angeles.
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