Babe’s Show Club Fights “Unconstitutional” Ordinance

Arguments in a federal lawsuit over Jackson Mississippi’s ordinance governing sex-oriented businesses will resume Oct. 10.
Babe’s Show Club and Secrets Cabaret filed suit against the city in February 2001, calling the ordinance unconstitutional. The trial began Sept. 16 and attorneys completed their presentations by mid-Friday.

U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate asked attorneys for each side to file additional documents in the case by Oct. 6.

What the city ordinance says:

Jackson’s adult entertainment ordinance requires employees of sex-oriented businesses to undergo background checks, be licensed, and it prohibits operation on Sundays.

The city ordinance also restricts adult entertainment businesses to locating only in light industrial districts. Adult entertainment businesses must be more than 1,000 feet from churches, schools, playgrounds, parks or property zoned for residential use.

Back Story: Babe’s Show Club and Secrets Cabaret allege the ordinance is unconstitutional because it violates dancers’ freedom of expression.

City attorneys say the ordinance promotes public health, safety and morals. U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate will hear the case, filed in February 2001.

Jackson’s public nudity and zoning ordinances that previously regulated adult entertainment clubs have been upheld in state and federal courts.

The current ordinance, effective since January 2001, was developed from similar statutes in other cities.

“We crafted it pretty much based on legal advice every step of the way,” said Ward 4 Councilman Bo Brown, who will testify.

The ordinance denies the club owners’ rights to free expression, speech and private property, according to the businesses’ lawsuit.

The city’s ordinance requires employees to undergo background checks, obtain licenses and limits dancing. Clubs are prohibited from operating on Sundays and can be searched by police anytime.

“These restrictions impact speech and expression adversely,” said the clubs’ attorney, Luke Lirot, of Tampa, Fla. “If people don’t enjoy this type of business they don’t have to patronize it.”

Lirot, along with Jackson attorney Christopher Ganner, are asking the judge to also make the city pay the clubs’ legal fees.

Jackson attorney Sam Begley said the ordinance was implemented in response to increased criminal activity in and around sex-oriented businesses.

Arrests in the area have included charges of prostitution and having sex in a public place, he said.

City attorneys, officers and those who were council members in 2000 will testify, Begley said.

“These adult entertainment establishments are constantly testing municipal ordinances to see if they can chip away at any of the provisions,” said Begley, hired by the council in July to represent Jackson because the city attorney’s office is understaffed.

Lirot said he will use a criminologist to argue that the adult clubs do not affect the crime rate. Jackson has fewer adult clubs and more crime than other Southeastern cities, he said.

An immunologist will testify about the health risks that are not much more dangerous than “if you bumped into someone at a grocery store,” Lirot said. An anthropologist will discuss the dancing, and two or three dancers also may testify.

“It’s always a pleasure for me to have these cases go to trial and debunk these stereotypes,” Lirot said.


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