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Ohio Strip Club Owners Retaliate with Lawsuit; Say New Law Violates 1st and 14th Amendments

Columbus, Ohio- 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.”

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