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Judge refuses to hear case on exclusion zone

Jackson County Circuit Judge Ron Grensky declined Monday to hear a lawsuit attempting to block Medford’s law that excludes scofflaws from downtown, saying he’s had his own problems with the homeless.

Grensky, who has properties in the downtown, said he has been exasperated with homeless issues that have led to criminal trespass complaints.

“I’ve thrown up my hands,” Grensky said.

As a result, Grensky said, another judge will have to hear the case.

The lawsuit involves Richard William Harris, who claims the exclusion zone violates his constitutionally protected right of free speech, right to travel and movement, and right of assembly. He also claims the ban violates the 14th Amendment regarding due process, according to the suit, which was prepared by local lawyer William Mansfield.

The city’s exclusion ordinance encompasses an area bounded by Bear Creek on the east, Sixth Street to the north, 10th Street to the south and Oakdale Avenue to the west. The Jackson County Courthouse, which contains county government offices, is also included in the exclusion zone.

Mansfield has filed similar suits in Ashland and Medford, but the clients in those cases lacked legal standing because they weren’t excluded at the time he filed the suit.

Harris was banned from downtown Medford because he was charged with being drunk in public after multiple violations.

Before Grensky declined to hear the case, Mansfield told the court that the exclusion ordinance has exceptions that allow someone who has been banned to go to appointments in the downtown.

“It does not have an exception if the person wants to go downtown to city parks and see his friends,” Mansfield said.

He said in the suit that public parks, public streets and sidewalks are all public spaces that allow someone to travel freely in a community.

“A public square or a public park constitutes a ‘quintessential’ public forum for First Amendment purposes,” he wrote.

Eric Mitton, senior deputy city attorney, in his response stated the city has had exclusion ordinances in parks and other city property since 2011. The exclusion ordinance was reworked May 4, 2017, to include the downtown area.

Someone can be excluded for up to 90 days from the downtown for a variety of offenses, including drunkenness, sex offenses, criminal mischief, graffiti, failure to control dangerous dogs, public urination, harassment, menacing and theft.

Violators can enter the exclusion zone for social services, employment or for public meetings.

“Plaintiff Richard Harris was the subject of at least 16 Medford Municipal Court judgments in 2017, including several instances of drinking in public,” Mitton wrote.

He was excluded Sept. 6, 2017, after receiving a citation for drinking in public in Alba Park.

In his response, Mitton cited case law to substantiate exclusion zones, including Portland’s Prostitution Free Zones.

When Mansfield, who is active in civil rights cases, filed the lawsuit Aug. 17, 2017, Harris’ previous exclusion had been rescinded by Medford police July 6.

Mitton disputed calling the exclusion a “ban,” also citing case law.

He stated that a person who has been excluded from the downtown has a right to traverse downtown sidewalks to get to another location in Medford.

“However, preventing such excluded individuals from lingering downtown after completing their business does not infringe on any constitutional right to travel,” Mitton stated.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.