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Bikini Bars Sue To Block Ordinance

TAMPA – In an effort to overturn tough new regulations aimed at sexually oriented businesses, prominent First Amendment lawyer Luke Lirot sued Hillsborough County on behalf of three bikini bars Thursday.

As expected, Lirot filed a complaint in U.S. District Court seeking an injunction against enforcing the ordinance, which regulates adult entertainment businesses in unincorporated areas of Hillsborough County.

The three bars that Lirot represents are Tootsies on East Hillsborough Avenue, Showgirls on Highway 92 East in Plant City and Showgirls on Brandon Boulevard in Valrico.

In addition to the regulations passed unanimously last week, commissioners have agreed to place a nonbinding referendum on November’s ballot, asking voters whether local governments should regulate erotic dance clubs and adult movie theaters “to the fullest extent allowed by law.”

Most area adult businesses are in Tampa, and commissioners hope a strong “yes” vote will push city leaders to adopt similar rules.

The new ordinance bars alcohol sales and consumption at adult businesses, prohibits private viewing booths at adult video stores, and requires dancers at bikini bars to stay at least 6 feet from customers while dancing.Lawsuit’s Points

Lirot said the lawsuit is grounded in two legal arguments.

First, it alleges the ordinance violates the First Amendment rights of the clubs. Second, it claims the clubs were denied their due process rights.

The lawsuit says the adult businesses provide a “socially enriching experience” and are good for the community. “The presentation of expressive dance performances is a beneficial social activity which creates an improved self-image for the dancer and joy and entertainment for the beholder.”

County Attorney Renee Lee said she was still reviewing the suit but was confident the county had sufficient evidence of adverse effects from so-called bikini bars to support the regulations.

The ordinance is based on similar regulations that have survived legal challenges in other jurisdictions, though there are differences tailored to Hillsborough County.

The county hired lawyer Scott Bergthold to draft the regulations that pin their legal arguments on trying to eliminate secondary adverse effects of adult businesses such as increased crime and reduced property values.

Lirot maintained the county passed the regulations without any evidence of the adverse effects officials alleged.

He also said the ordinance is too expansive. “If someone wants to hug a customer, that could well violate the ordinance,” he said.

David Caton, president of the Florida Family Association, said the lawsuit will serve only to motivate more people to vote in the countywide referendum.

“You are going to have a highly motivated group of people who want something done,” Caton said.

The antiporn activist began urging the county to pass tougher laws on adult businesses years ago.

“The name of the game with adult business … is to file and delay, just bury the defendants in paperwork to play the time game,” Caton said.

“The longer they keep the litigation going, the longer it takes to allow the county to enforce the ordinance,” he said.Taxpayers’ Tab

Asked about the taxpayers’ legal bills, Caton said: “I think it’s well worth millions of dollars to get that business out of here.”

The owners of the Brandon Boulevard club are already enmeshed in a legal battle with the county over efforts to prevent the bikini bar from opening.

Lirot said the club owners offered to settle with the county but were rebuffed.

Calls to county commission Chairman Jim Norman and Commissioner Ronda Storms were not returned Thursday afternoon.


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