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Courts.jpg

Is Medford's exclusion zone constitutional?

Medford’s downtown exclusion zone got its day in court Tuesday when Jackson County Circuit Judge Benjamin Bloom listened to legal arguments debating whether the city has overstepped constitutional rights.

The lawsuit involves Richard William Harris, who claims the city’s 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.

Eric Mitton, senior deputy attorney for the city of Medford, said the city’s ordinance is similar to others in the state that prohibit people from engaging in prostitution or from doing drugs in public.

Someone can be excluded from downtown for up to 90 days 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.

“They can associate with whoever they want, not just in the zone,” Mitton said. “They can’t hang with their friends and drink a beer.”

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.

Harris was the subject of at least 16 Medford Municipal Court judgments in 2017, including several instances of drinking in public, according to documents filed by Mitton with the court.

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

Mansfield said the city has attempted to offer up reasons why the ordinance is constitutional, but he said they don’t withstand scrutiny, particularly in a country founded on the rights of free speech and free association.

“Parks and public places have been sacrosanct in the eyes of federal authorities,” he said.

Mansfield said the suit isn’t attacking the city’s ability to put someone in jail for violating local laws.

Bloom listened to the lawyers and said he would issue an order soon after reviewing case law.

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.

Ashland has a similar exclusion zone, and Mansfield challenged it last year, but the case was dismissed because the plaintiff didn’t have legal standing.

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

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