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Doctor John’s Trial to Determine Consitutionality of Zoning Ordinance

Sioux City, Iowa- As it prepared to open in Sioux City, Doctor John’s Lingerie Boutique presented a new type of challenge, the city’s attorney testified last Friday.

The store proposed to sell lingerie, swimwear, oils, lotions and “regular” movies. It also planned to sell adult movies and other adult material, including sex toys.

“This was a marketing technique we had not seen before, using nonadult items to get under the 25 percent,” Sioux City Attorney Jim Abshier said during the opening morning of testimony of a trial to determine the constitutionality of the city’s adult entertainment zoning ordinance.

City zoning ordinances at that time permitted stores in specified commercial districts to sell adult items if those materials made up less than 25 percent of the store. But by selling lingerie and other nonadult items, Doctor John’s appeared to be hiding its true intent, Abshier said.

“We didn’t want them to open a business that would primarily market adult products,” he testified.

Doctor John’s owner John Haltom sued the city in December 2003 in U.S. District Court in Sioux City. He is challenging wording that specifically defines adult book/video stores.

U.S. District Judge Mark W. Bennett, not a jury, will decide whether the city’s ordinance is constitutional.

In October 2003, Abshier testified, city officials learned that Doctor John’s was planning to sell adult material. A member of his staff visited the store prior to opening to determine if any merchandise violated city ordinances. Eleven products were found in violation and ordered to be removed from shelves.

In the meantime, Abshier prepared a moratorium on new adult entertainment so he could determine if the city’s zoning regulations would apply to the new marketing strategy he said Doctor John’s presented.

“It became apparent to us that the (2003) ordinance, which was old, was not up to date with the state of adult products,” Abshier said. “We wanted to make sure we had a chance to study how to deal with those types of businesses in zoning.”

City officials were concerned with potential adverse effects, such as crime and reduced value of adjacent property, a business like Doctor John’s could have on the city, Abshier said.

After the moratorium passed, Haltom filed his suit, seeking an injunction against the city to prohibit it from enforcing the moratorium. Bennett granted that injunction in February 2004, and Doctor John’s opened a week later at 3507 Singing Hills Blvd.

Since then, the city has amended its adult entertainment store ordinances, rules that Doctor John’s is challenging. In a previous ruling, Bennett struck down one of those ordinances as unconstitutional and has upheld another.

Because of a crowded court calendar, testimony will continue today. The trial is expected to last at least until Tuesday.

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