Strip club owners go to court
By John McCarthy
DISH Network Satellite TV
COLUMBUS - Strip club owners went to court Wednesday to block a new law that prohibits patrons from touching dancers and puts other restrictions on adult business operations.
The moves came as Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner reiterated that a coalition of strip club owners failed to collect enough signatures to put the issue on the Nov. 6 ballot. The referendum sought to have voters to overturn the law. Brunner's dismissal means the law passed in May takes effect immediately.
Club operators filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Cleveland asking a judge to issue a restraining order, saying the law was unconstitutionally vague and suppresses the right of free expression. A judge may rule as early as today.
Later Wednesday, club operators filed an action in the Ohio Supreme Court asking that Brunner's handling of several rounds of signatures be reviewed.
The new restrictions include a ban on dancers touching patrons or each other and a prohibition of nude dancing in clubs after midnight. Clubs whose liquor licenses let them stay open after midnight may continue to do so, but nude dancing after that hour will not be allowed.
"It's un-American to limit free speech just because it offends the moral code of a small but noisy group of censors," Luke Liakos, president of the Buckeye Association of Club Executives, said in a statement.
The law was supposed to take effect Sept. 4, but the ballot drive held up its enforcement. State law allows 90 days for voters to try to repeal a new law.
Backers of the referendum collected 181,808 valid signatures of Ohio voters. They needed 241,366 - 6 percent of the total vote in the 2006 election for governor - to qualify for the ballot. They also had to have at least 3 percent of the vote in 44 of Ohio's 88 counties.
They passed that threshold in 46 counties, Brunner said in a letter Wednesday to the issue's backers. On Monday, Brunner reported they had met the threshold in just 15 counties, with 16 counties yet to report. After all counties reported, Brunner's office came up with the new figure.
"The information the other day was preliminary information. Nothing was certified at that time," Brunner spokesman Jeff Ortega said.
Strip-club law being challenged
Thursday, October 18, 2007 4:01 AM
By Alan Johnson
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Inside the new law
Highlights of Senate Bill 16, also known as the Community Defense Act:
* Requires "sexually oriented businesses" to close between midnight and 6 a.m. Clubs with liquor permits can remain open after midnight, but adult entertainment must cease.
This includes adult bookstores, video stores and motion-picture theaters, sexual-device shops and "sexual encounter" centers. It does not cover businesses selling or renting R-rated movies.
* Prohibits touching a nude or semi-nude dancer, or their clothing, in a club, anywhere on the premises or the parking lot. This excludes members of the dancer's immediate family.
Touching a dancer's genitals, buttocks or the "female breast below a point immediately above the top of the areola" is a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Any other contact is a fourth-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $250 fine.
Source: S.B. 16
Erotic dancers, adult bookstores and video outlets provide "constitutionally protected expression," opponents of Ohio's new strip-club law argued in a federal lawsuit filed yesterday.
The filing by the Buckeye Association of Club Executives says nude dancers and adult-entertainment establishments should be constitutionally protected the same as stage plays such as Hair and O h ! Calcutta !, novels such as Ulysses by James Joyce and Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence, and paintings of nude models such as those by Degas, Renoir and Raphael.
In the suit filed against 68 city law directors and county prosecutors statewide, Cleveland lawyer J. Michael Murray says the law that took effect yesterday violates the First and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver Jr. in Cleveland late yesterday heard the club executives' request for a temporary restraining order to block enforcement of the law. Oliver said he will decide today after receiving written briefs from attorneys for club owners and Attorney General Marc Dann.
The legal attack focuses on the law known as the Community Defense Act, which took effect immediately when Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner officially declared a referendum campaign had failed. Brunner said the Vote No on Issue 1 Committee fell short by nearly 60,000 valid signatures; it needed 241,366.
The law enacts a no-touch rule at strip clubs and a midnight closing time for all adult-oriented businesses.
After first announcing on Monday that the Vote No committee failed a second test -- obtaining signatures from at least 44 counties equal to 3 percent of the total vote in the 2006 gubernatorial election -- Brunner said yesterday that "upon further review" the committee in fact met the standard in 46 counties.
On another legal front, opponents of the law filed a second lawsuit late yesterday, this one asking the Ohio Supreme Court to force Brunner to accept as valid all signatures on the committee's petition that were not returned to her office by Monday's deadline.
Columbus lawyer Donald J. McTigue, representing club executives, said state elections law requires the secretary of state to count as valid all signatures returned to her office past the deadline, which was missed by several counties.
Sandy Theis, spokeswoman for the Vote No on Issue 1 Committee and Dancers for Democracy, said club owners plan to follow the law by stopping the dancers at midnight until the lawsuits are settled.
Phil Burress, president of Citizens for Community Values, the Cincinnati group that pushed state lawmakers to adopt the rules, called the referendum's failure to make the ballot "a victory for the families and communities of Ohio."
Burress described the first lawsuit as a "Hail Mary pass" by club owners and predicted it will end up in the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals which, he said, "already has upheld much more stringent regulations."