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Published: 5/29/2003

Court blocks sex law but gives clubs limits

BY DALE EMcH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Lap dances are now taboo in Toledo.

But much of Toledo's tough new sexually oriented business law won't be able to take effect at least until a hearing in November, a federal judge ruled yesterday.

U.S. District Court Judge David Katz granted a temporary restraining order sought by a group of local strip clubs, but only on the condition that nude dancing doesn't take place within two feet of patrons and that there be no form of sexual contact between dancers and customers.

Although both the businesses and city officials claimed victory, the clubs' dancers know that they lost: No contact means less money.

“People will still come here, but I think it'll hurt business a little,” said “Safire,” a dancer at Scarlett's, one of North Toledo's clubs. “We'll have to wait and see.”

One customer, who gave his name as Rob Smith, said many patrons would stop coming to nude clubs if lap dances were not permitted.

“I came here from Monroe, Michigan, and myself and a lot of people will stop coming when they find out about the two-foot rule,” he said.

The strip clubs felt the judge's ruling favored them because they don't have to comply with the city's rule keeping dancers six feet from customers. The city believes it won because sexual contact and close dancing is banned.

“A [temporary restraining order] could say just that - that we're restricted from enforcing our ordinance, period,” said John Madigan of the city's law department. “This way, if they do these things, we can go back to the judge and say, `They're violating your restraining order.'”

John Czarnecki, a Toledo attorney, said he's pleased the judge granted the order so his client, D j Vu-Toledo, Inc., has at least temporary relief.

“The court has enjoined the enforcement of the ordinance until the court can determine the constitutionality of it,” he said.

At issue is the constitutionality of a law council passed in January that requires, among other things, a six-foot gap between dancers and patrons, performances on 18-inch-high stages, and a prohibition on patrons and dancers touching intimate body parts.

Sabrina Martin, manager of Scarlett's, said yesterday's ruling may affect business initially, but people will continue to patronize nude clubs regardless of the restrictions.

“Ultimately, there are a lot of people who enjoy the company of the girls,” Ms. Martin said.

Judge Katz's restraining order remains in effect at least until Nov. 13 when a hearing will be conducted to reconsider the matter.

The strip clubs sued the city last week to oppose the law, which was scheduled to take effect Tuesday. In addition to Deja Vu, other plaintiffs in the suit include J.B. Monroe, Inc., which does business as Scarlett's, and Younes, Inc., which does business as Platinum Showgirls.

James Benjamin, counsel for Scarlett's said: “we ultimately think we will be able to win against the city because the ordinance is unconstitutional.”

The lawsuit contends that the city's ordinance damages the dancers' and patrons' free speech rights by restricting the content of the dances. It contends that the restrictions would make it impossible for dancers to “clearly communicate” with customers.

The management of Platinum Showgirls on Telegraph is undeterred by the new rules.

“Bottom line, the girls will still be nude, just that they will be two feet away,” said Tony Dia, Platinum Showgirls owner. “This whole thing was based on what's happened outside the clubs ... but not one of those things were brought up. I think they are indirectly trying to put us out of business.”

Jay Nelson, the club's general manager, said he was willing to meet with community groups, but they refused to talk.

“This could have been done without costing the city any money,” Mr. Nelson said. “I think business will suffer until customers realize that not that much will change.”

Ryan Kemp, general manager of Diamond's Gentleman's Club in Jerusalem Township - where lap dances are permitted - refused to comment on the yesterday's ruling.

Wade Kapszukiewicz, a Toledo city councilman who worked to pass the law, said the temporary restraining order wasn't unexpected.

“We recognize this will be a long process,” he said. “In January, when we passed the ordinance, we knew there would be a court battle. And in January, when we passed the ordinance, we knew we would win the court battle.”

Mr. Madigan said the law was based on ordinances from other cities that have passed constitutional scrutiny, as well as court rulings that have considered similar issues.

“We didn't make this up out of whole cloth,” he said. “We made sure our ordinance would be upheld.”

Council amended a portion of the ordinance Tuesday in response to a recent federal appeals court decision. The amendment standardizes hours of operation for sexually oriented businesses and deletes a provision allowing random inspections.

Staff writer Ignazio Messina contributed to this report.



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