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Injunction hearing

Kelso resident Curtis Hart argued Wednesday in Cowlitz Superior Court that he has First Amendment right to the list of all level 1 sex offenders in Cowlitz County.

Cowlitz County Superior Court Judge Stephen Warning said he has “no doubt in (his) mind” that Curtis Hart will make “childish, irresponsible, vindictive and immature use” of records of all level 1 sex offenders in Cowlitz County.

But, “reluctantly,” Warning concluded Wednesday that the law requires that Hart should get them.

“Sometimes the law is an ass,” Warning said, “and Mr. Hart is entitled to his records.”

Hart won’t get the records yet, though. Warning will decide Oct. 10 what should or should not be withheld from the request. In the meantime, attorneys representing some of the offenders will be able to appeal the decision — which attorneys indicated is a near certainty.

At the very least, about 200 of the county’s 570 level 1 offenders committed their crimes while they were juvenile, and their names will not be released, according to the county sheriff’s office.

Hart, a Kelso resident who said he wants post the sex offenders’ names on the Internet, called Warning’s decision “pretty good.”

“I very much think of this as a First Amendment battle,” Hart said after Warning’s ruling.

He has said that sex predators deserve scorn and that he doubts many of the offenders are capable of reform, even though level 1 offenders are considered the least likely to reoffend. Hart has acted as a self-appointed sex offender vigilante who has organized a “punisher squad” that has baited several would-be offenders, leading to at least three being arrested and charged.

Previously, only a handful of offenders had sought injunctions to block release of their names. However, on Wednesday, four attorneys argued on behalf of about 50 “John Doe” offenders also seeking injunctions. They said that releasing their names would make them vulnerable to harassment, attack, loss of employment and public embarrassment.

On an individual basis, records about specific sex offenders are publicly available. But police databases listing all level 1 offenders are generally not published, though the state Supreme Court ruled in a 2016 Franklin County case that they must be disclosed if someone requests them under the state Open Records Act.

Attorney and privately contracted public defender Joshua Baldwin argued Hart’s request should be blocked based on concern for vigilante action against the offenders.

“(Hart) considers it sport to harass or otherwise harm people he believes are sexual predators,” Baldwin told Warning. “He has exhibited a willingness to support ... violence against them.”

Hart told The Daily News in September that he doesn’t advocate violence and, on Wednesday, he told the court that he doesn’t “intend to harass anybody.”

Rather, he said he’s only trying to make information available so people can make “an informed decision” about who they live near or let near their children. And he disputed claims that posts on “The Punisher Squad” Facebook page, which he operates with several other moderators, indicate that he wishes violence against sex offenders.

One such post referenced by lawyers shows an image of a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire accompanied by a caption that reads, “Liberals: you can’t just wave(sic) a magic wand and make pedophilia disappear.”

“I share thousands of memes on the internet all the time,” Hart told Warning. “I am a pacifist. ... It’s legal to be mean. It’s legal to offend people.”

He also said he’s changed his mind about being selective about which offenders names to publish online. Now, he said, he intends to post the entire list when he receives it.

Warning cited the Franklin County Supreme Court case in deciding to grant Hart’s request. If there is a concern that it could endanger the offenders, that’s a job for the Legislature to contend with. His job is to uphold the law, Warning said.

Baldwin argued that the Franklin County case ruling is not a precedent in Hart’s case. In that case, Donna Zink requested and received the names of 21,000 registered sex offenders across the state, but she didn’t ask for as much identifying information as Hart has, according to Baldwin.

Eli Marchbanks, a Vancouver attorney representing several of the plaintiffs, said research on the topic has shown disclosing sex offenders’ information can lead to harassment, assault, and even death. Disrupting their stability potentially increases the risk that an offender offends again, he said, and would decrease public safety.

Hart argued that even if releasing the records made sex offenders more likely to reoffend, it would be “all the more reason for people to find out who (those sex offenders) are.”

Marchbanks asked Warning to set the matter for a trial to give all sides more time to present a case.

“If that information is released now, then the cat’s out of the bag,” he said.

(Hart) considers it sport to harass or otherwise harm people he believes are sexual predators. He has exhibited a willingness to support ... violence against them. — Joshua Baldwin,
attorney for sex offenders

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