Tuesday, October 24, 2000

Council debates sex laws

Judge's ruling leaves city no civil recourse

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Some Cincinnati city council members think the city's laws against sexually oriented businesses are not being fully enforced.

        Councilmen Phil Heimlich and Todd Portune sparred Monday with Deputy City Solicitor Bob Johnstone over how aggressively city lawyers pursue cases against adult book stores like Hustler and Tip Top Books.

        The two councilmen want more attention paid to civil cases against the businesses, with Mr. Heimlich saying the law department should ask for more money to pay lawyers if they need more help.

        It's wrong “to simply let it slide,” he said. “I think that lets our citizens, lets our council down.”

        In six pending cases, the city failed to file civil actions in addition to the criminal ones, Mr. Heimlich said. That means when Municipal Judge Ralph E. Winkler ruled last week that the city's law governing sexually oriented businesses was unconstitutional, the city was left with no civil way to stop the businesses.

        The judge said businesses refused a license do not have adequate avenues to appeal, Mr. Heimlich said. Mr. Johnstone disagreed with that characterization, telling council members it isn't a problem with the city's law. Businesses have two shots at the initial process with the city treasurer's office, he said, and then can appeal again in court.

        The city can't help it, he said, if the “prompt judicial review” required by the constitution doesn't come at the court level.

        Several adult stores, including some owned by Hustler publisher Larry Flynt, have been investigated or charged under the city's law in recent years. Judge Winkler's case involved Tip Top Books in Corryville, which had been accused of operating a sexually oriented business without a license.

        Mr. Portune asked that the city's law be amended so it can be better used. Mr. Heimlich made a motion to order the city administration to fully enforce the laws, including civil actions.

        Those motions will be heard later, after referral to committee.

        Councilman Jim Tarbell disagreed with both, saying the city already has spent too much money and time on cases that end up being “colossal failures.”

        “I absolutely refuse to play into these people's hands and do their marketing for them,” he said. “We've spent an incredible amount of time and money and energy on these issues to no avail. It has simply come back in our faces.”


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