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Strip Club Owner Sues over Billboard Flap

ATLANTA – The owner of a chain of strip clubs has filed a federal lawsuit against a state official, saying his right to free speech was violated.

Jerry Sullivan’s lawsuit involves billboards along Interstate 85 that advertise his clubs.

Sullivan, 44, claims Jim Aube, the Georgia Department of Transportation’s outdoor advertising manager, overstepped his bounds when trying to get Sullivan to take down the billboards.

Earlier this year, the DOT revoked permits for two billboards Sullivan owns along I-85 in Franklin County, saying the signs violated state regulations on billboard size and location.

Sullivan, who lives in Gainesville, Fla., says the state is on a “religious and political” mission to make him take down a series of billboards along Georgia interstates that show scantily clad women. The word “topless” stretches across some of the signs. Others carry the club’s slogan, “We bare all.”

Transportation officials have since apologized for revoking one of the permits, saying they made a mistake. But officials maintain another billboard, which criticized the department, was illegally erected, according to department documents.

That billboard crudely described Aube as “dumb” and referred drivers to a Web site that attacked him in harsher terms.

“This inbreed, Bible-thumping bureaucrat has taken it upon himself to be judge and jury as to what can and cannot be placed on billboards,” the site, which has a profanity in its address, says.

But Sullivan took down the billboard’s message last week at the landowner’s request.

State officials have not commented, citing the litigation.

Sullivan’ strip clubs and marketing methods have frustrated officials in three states over the last decade. Since the early 1990s, Sullivan has used weak zoning laws in Georgia, Florida and North Carolina to open a chain of six strip clubs that cater to interstate truck drivers and businessmen. The clubs carry the name Cafe Risque or Cafe Erotica.

Sullivan also has challenged Georgia’s outdoor advertising laws, winning a state Supreme Court decision in 1998 that has allowed him to line Georgia’s freeways with nearly two dozen billboards. There are as many as 40 of the billboards across the three states.



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