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Judge to Strip Club: Abide by Crackdown

Prince George’s County, Maryland- A federal judge has upheld Prince George’s County’s crackdown on strip clubs, but temporarily ruled against a measure requiring individual strippers to post licenses issued by the county. U.S. District Court Judge Deborah K. Chasanow on April 15 refused to issue a restraining order to block enforcement of the county’s laws on adult entertainment, including a ban on nude dancers mingling with club patrons. The Nico Banquet Hall in Camp Springs, Bazz and Crue in Forestville and the Showcase Theater in Beltsville filed a federal lawsuit against the county last month challenging the constitutionality of the laws. “The clubs will have to comply” while the case moves ahead, said Tonia Belton-Gofreed, assistant state’s attorney for Prince George’s County. The legislation, which an attorney for the clubs called “sweeping and devastating,” include a provision that prohibits clubs from operating after 1 a.m. Among other new restrictions, dancers must be on stages that are at least 18 inches high and performances must take place at least six feet from customers. Judge Chasanow denied the request for a restraining order on all of the measures except for a provision saying that dancers must post their licenses in a work area. Under the new set of county laws, dancers will have to pay the county $200 a year for a license. License applications must include proof of identification, age, home address and any stage names or nicknames they use during performances. Luke Lirot, an attorney for the clubs, had argued that restrictions shouldn’t be enforced until the court decides whether they are constitutional. Mr. Lirot also argued that another measure banning patrons from giving tips to dancers would put many employees out of work. “Without the tip income from the patrons, many, if not all, of the dancers that perform at these establishments would not do so,” he wrote in a 44-page legal brief filed earlier this month. Mr. Lirot also questioned a consulting study commissioned by county officials before they enacted the legislation.

The study by Pennsylvania-based Gentile-Meinert & Associates Inc. called for tightened regulation of strip clubs and cited “negative secondary effects,” including crime and declining property values. The regulations were enacted in the wake of a community effort to stop the relocation of a Hyattsville strip club to the outskirts of Laurel. In legal filings, Miss Belton-Gofreed balked at claims by the strip clubs that the new rules were unconstitutional. She stated that the laws aren’t overly restrictive because dancers, if clothed, still can mingle with patrons. In addition, strippers still can accept tips, though not directly. They must take tips from business operators or tip jars. She also said tightened restrictions were justified because a county study found that 8.5 percent of the county’s homicides were reported at adult entertainment establishments in 2003. The study also cited links between the establishments and prostitution and declining property values. Miss Belton-Gofreed also said the enforcement of the rules probably will not begin until next month. “The county is not banning nudity, dancing or nude dancing,” Miss Belton-Gofreed argued in legal filings last week. “If … patrons will accept no alternative to the experience of ‘genitalia-touching lap dances,’ frankly, salsa dancing — or therapy — would better serve.”


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