A federal judge just gave the Children’s Pool seals a temporary stay of dispersal.

U.S. District Judge William Hayes issued a temporary restraining order preventing he city from dispersing the colony of harbor seals at least until Nov. 25. Hayes’ order would trump a pending order by Superior Court Judge Yuri Hofmann, who said yesterday that the city must immediately remove the seals.

Hayes’ order was requested by Bryan Pease, a lawyer for the La Jolla Friends of Seals, who argued that the city would be violating federal law if it dispersed the seals without a federal permit. And, Pease said, because seal pupping season is fast approaching, irreparable harm would be done to the colony if the city were to take action against the seals now.

Pease made his request for the restraining order after hearing Hofmann’s intentions yesterday. He had already filed the federal suit against the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for not requiring the city to obtain permits for seal dispersal. His suit also demands that the city put up a rope barrier to keep people away during pupping season.

“I think that a really catastrophic situation has been avoided here by keeping things the way they are,” Pease said. “What we were looking at was an imminent state order to destroy a seal rookery where pregnant seals are about to start giving birth and nursing their young.”

Said City Attorney Mike Aguirre: “Representing the seals is like representing someone on death row.”

The Children’s Pool is recognized by NOAA as a rookery, and the pupping season runs from December through May.

Pease’s case was bolstered when Deputy San Diego City Attorney George Schaefer and attorneys representing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said they would not oppose the order.

Schaefer said there remains confusion as to whether the Marine Mammal Protection Act gives the city authority to remove the seals without a permit. But he said it is clear that the city could be prosecuted by federal authorities if it caused the death of a seal.

“We are very concerned that if we were required to disperse the seal colony that there would be that would be miscarriages by the pregnant females,” Schaefer said. “Obviously we think that would be very inhumane and would violate federal law.”

In the most recent hearing in a long-running Superior Court case yesterday, Hofmann said the city is obligated immediately to shoo the colony of seals that for more than a decade has used the manmade cove as a birthing ground. He held off on issuing a formal order, but indicated that he would do so by Friday.

Hoffman took over the case from Judge William Pate, who ruled in 2005 that the city had to clean up the cove and return it to its original condition, which in essence meant that the seals would have to go. The case was brought by Valerie O’Sullivan, a now-former La Jolla resident who sued the city after federal authorities ticketed her for harassing the seals after she went swimming in the cove.

Hayes’ order in Pease’s federal case means that the earliest any dispersal order could be made would be Nov. 25, the next time the judge is scheduled to hear arguments in the case.

DAVID WASHBURN

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