Thursday, May 25, 2000

Monroe strip club to fight law

Business hours, licensing covered by supplement

By Janet C. Wetzel
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MONROE — A day after City Council passed a law with tough licensing and regulation requirements for sexually oriented businesses, Bristol's Show Club & Revue is preparing to challenge it.

        Some experts said the law, a supplement to the city's business regulation and taxation code, not a zoning amendment, is solid and should hold up in court. Others said communities across the country have lost legal battles over similar ordinances, and this one likely will meet the same fate.

        “I've never lost a comprehensive, adult business regulatory ordinance challenge,” said Brad Shafer, a Lansing, Mich., lawyer, who said he's fought many such cases nationally.

        Mr. Shafer, president of First Amendment Lawyers Association, said in one recent federal court win, the judge ordered the municipality to pay his legal fees — at least $250,000 and possibly up to $450,000.

        Mr. Shafer said the lawsuits he's handled have involved dancer licensing, club licensing, distance regulations “and any other crap they pass to try to put these clubs out of business.”

        But Scott Bergthold, president of Community Defense Counsel, a Scottsdale, Ariz., law firm that helped write Monroe's law, said some ordinances have withstood court challenges, including a recent case in Chattanooga, Tenn.

        “This is a reasonable basis for regulating sexually oriented businesses,” Mr. Bergthold said. “There is nothing experimental in this ordinance. We've looked at cases that were upheld and those that were struck down and we've drawn up an ordinance that takes those into consideration.”

        The law restricts operating hours, distance between dancers and patrons, prohibits patrons from making contact when tipping, and requires the club and employees to go through a licensing process. Passed as an emergency, it was effective immediately. License applications are required within 90 days.

        Terry Wolfe, president of the Ohio Cabaret Association and husband of Bristol's owner Giselle Wolfe, said the law is an attempt to close the club.

        Mr. Wolfe said Bristol's, the city's only sexually oriented business, has operated nearly seven years with no problems.

        “I think this is an unfair ordinance and there's really no need for it,” Mr. Wolfe said. “We're going to challenge it, there's no question about that,” and it will likely be within 72 hours.

        Mayor Elbert Tannreuther said the law is a good one, needed to control such businesses. He's optimistic the city will prevail, but said a loss could be a financial hardship.

        “I don't know if we could afford that or not,” Mr. Tannreuther said. “But those are the chances you take for the good of the cause.”

        Cincinnati lawyer H. Louis Sirkin, who represents Bristol's and who has won several such cases, said there are problems with the law.

        “I think the ordinance has flaws in it and will not withstand the court challenge for a variety of reasons,” including the licensing process, Mr. Sirkin said.

        He said council did not want to hear the other side, and its action included no objectivity or sensitivity to First Amendment rights.

        “We feel these laws are prior restraints — to silence a speaker before they speak,” Mr. Sirkin said.


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