As many of my readers know, while my wife and children graduated from the University of Florida, I graduated from the University of Michigan and received my law degree from Ohio State. I was born and raised on Big Ten football and bleed maize and blue (to the dismay of my Buckeye friends and family).
Penn State joined the Big Ten about twenty years ago and there have been many memorable games between the Nittany Lions and my beloved Wolverines--while the players changed, and other coaches left the profession, Joe Paterno remained as the symbol of Penn State. In many ways, he was regarded as the shining example of all that was and is good about big-time college athletics.
I spent part of last night reading (with shock and outrage) all 23 pages of the grand jury report that resulted in the charges against Jerry Sandusky, a former defensive coordinator under Paterno at Penn State, as well as the university's athletic director and the school's vice president for finance and business. I will not post the link to that report as it is both graphic and horrifying in detailing how Sandusky allegedly abused at least 8 young boys and how Penn State's administrators allegedly allowed this abuse to occur.
Earlier this afternoon, Joe Paterno issued a statement that he would be retiring at the end of this football season.
My partner, Jody Gabel, and I, find ourselves more and more frequently helping communities struggle with the very real concerns raised by sexual offenders or predators. It's certainly understandable that many residents feel threatened when they discover that there is a sexual offender or predator in their midst.
Here are a few thoughts and suggestions that may be helpful:
- Screening of prospective residents is absolutely essential. The best way to deal with a sexual predator is before he or she becomes a resident in the community. I advise ROCs we represent to screen any person that intends on occupying a home in the community for any period of time greater than one month. Once the predator or sexual offender moves into the community, the amount of time, effort, and expense involved in trying to remove him or her will be substantial, and there's no guarantee that the offender or predator will be required to move. We also suggest that our clients use a professional screening company for all residency applications--there are a number of very good companies that focus on this very important task.
- While a community may have to allow a resident to have a caregiver as a "reasonable accommodation" under the Fair Housing Act, the community should insist that the proposed caregiver undergo screening. The last thing a ROC manager or board wants to deal with is a "caregiver" who is a convicted sexual predator.
When it's discovered that a person who already lives in the community has a record of being either a sexual predator or sexual offender, a number of factors must be considered:
Did the offender/predator lie or withhold information on the application for residency?
Did the offender/predator become a resident before the community's rules (if any) requiring screening and/or approval of the association to the residency went into effect?
Was the resident convicted of the offense after he or she moved into the community?
How long ago did the offense occur and what's the nature of the offense? There's certainly a difference between a resident who was convicted 40 years ago (when he was 19) of having improper relations (and thus may be a registered offender) with his 17 year old girl friend (who happens to be his wife of 39 years) and the 56 year old resident who has been convicted of being a sexual predator on several occasions in the last decade.
I have always advised against posting information about a resident's real or alleged record as a sexual offender or predator. Errors can be made and neither the residents in the community nor the association itself is well served by spreading information that turns out to be misleading or false. The better course of action is to simply post a notice in the community clubhouse or other public area advising that anyone that wishes to determine whether any registered sexual predators or offenders live in or near the community can do so by visiting Florida's Sexual Offenders and Predators Website.
And, as always, when in doubt, contact legal counsel. These are extremely difficult issues and the association's attorney can help the community navigate these very troubled waters.
I'm updating this entry while watching the press conference conducted by a member of Penn State's Board of Trustees where Joe Paterno's firing has just been announced. What a nightmarish end to his tenure and a unfathomable taint on his legacy.