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Vegas Lawyer on Lap Dance Ban

Las Vegas [vegasblog.latimes.com]- I interviewed prominent attorney and strip club landlord Dominic Gentile on Saturday about last weeks’ controversial Nevada Supreme Court decision. The decision allows the city of Las Vegas to punish strippers or customers who “fondle” or “caress.” Before that this ordinance had been deemed too vague by lower courts. And probably for good reason.

As I blogged last week, the problem for dancers and customers is that no one involved in the case agrees on what the fondle and caress ban means. This includes the lawyers on both sides and the judge who wrote the opinion that the ordinance was not vague. For one thing the judge seems to think the ordinance is meant to ban lap dances, but the lawyer for the city who fought to uphold the ordinance disagrees.

This may not be a complete list, but these clubs all fall in the city limits of Las Vegas and therefore are places where the no longer vague ordinance is being enforced: Olympic Gardens, Treasures, Cheetahs, Crazy Horse Too, Talk of the Town, Sheri’s Cabaret, Glitter Gultch and Larry’s Villa.

I turned to Gentile to help sort this out, because the very nature of the lap dance in Las Vegas was established in 1996, when Gentile successfully represented Club Paradise (located across from the Hard Rock) in a fight against the county’s lap dancing ordinance. As a result of that case, neither Gentile’s Palomino in North Las Vegas nor any of the topless bars in the county (like Scores and Club Paradise) are impacted by the decision.

Q: Were you surprised by the Supreme Court decision?

A: Well, let me start by saying I haven’t had time to read it yet. But I am not surprised by it given the current Nevada Supreme Court. If this decision were to come down in 120 days it might be different.

Q: You mean because of the election?

A: Yeah. I don’t want to cast a negative light on the intelligence of any of the justices, but when you are dealing with First Amendment concern this current supreme court as a whole has not been sensitive to them. You do have some really guiding lights in the First Amendment area on the court, but you are really talking about two votes here. This was a 5-2 decision. I believe the incoming justices would have seen this case very differently.

Q: I don’t want to put you on the spot if you haven’t read the decision. But do you know the ordinance that was upheld?

A: Oh, yes. Yes, I do.

Q: Do you consider the language vague?

A: Yes. I filed this very same case 10 years ago and got a ruling holding this very language vague. You have already had two District Court judges that have considered it [and ruled it vague]. I think the most significant thing is that [City Attorney] Brad Jerbic disagrees…

Q: Yeah, I noticed that. Didn’t he win the case?

A: He won the case in the sense that the court has said these are not vague terms. However, Brad is interpreting the case somewhat differently than the Supreme Court justices.

Q: According to the Review-Journal, Justice Nancy Becker put in the decision that the intent was to make lap dances illegal and Jerbic said that isn’t what the ordinance intends.

A: Right. She is dead wrong in terms of the ability to make lap dances illegal. You can’t do that. Dancing, even lap dancing, is a First Amendment protected activity.

Q: If you owned a strip club in the city would you be concerned right now?

A: Yes. Another problem, the biggest problem, is that the county and the city ordinances are both enforced by the same law enforcement agency, Metro. What really needs to take place out of common sense is a uniformity in the ordinances and the interpretation of the ordinances. Now, the problem is more complex thanks to soon to be ex-Justice Nancy Becker. She deems the ordinance to outlaw lap dancing. But the man who drafted it and had to defend it says it doesn’t. Now, the police on the street are in this difficult situation where they have to determine what “fondle” and “caress” mean. “Fondling” usually implies some sort of lewd conduct but if you look at the dictionary definition it definitely doesn’t mean that. I think it is going to be a real tough situation for the clubs in the city. If I had a place in the city right now I would want to sit down with Metro and the City Attorney’s Office to find out how they are going to interpret it.

Q: Do you think this confusion and the wide range of interpretation encourage a culture where corruption thrives? One cop can be tough and another see nothing wrong in the same activity. I mean, we have had so many problems with owners of strip clubs. Doesn’t this encourage a cop to ask for a bribe or a club to offer one?

A: I think you overstated that. You had a corruption problem at Cheetah’s and Jaguars because of Michael Galardi. Michael Galardi is gone. There was a corruption problem at Crazy Horse but that did not involve law enforcement. With respect to the other clubs I don’t think there has been any allegations of bribery.

I can tell you that as lawyer who represented clubs for a lot of years in opposing cases brought by the vice people at Metro, it has not been my experience that corruption has been prevalent. I believe we have a very honest police department. But to get to your question, it does encourage it. You can be sure there are some people at Metro just like at any other police department who are willing to be corrupted and this kind of environment definitely begs for that. But I think that is not going to happen.

I think the problem is going to be that in the city this is going to reduce a dancer’s options to the lowest common denominator based on safety from prosecution. That is going to result in a loss of business for the city. But, I think, Mayor Goodman is the best mayor in the country when it comes to encouraging legitimate business activity. He has a liberal view of what sexual contact can take place between adults. And, it is my hope, he will take a lead here and get the city and Metro and the club owners into a room to work this out. If this is not vague, someone has to establish some guidelines so we are told what these words mean as far as Metro is concerned. Then everyone charged with enforcing the law at Metro has to also be on the same page with what the words mean.

Q: Final question: Is there anything tourists coming here need to be concerned about in all of this?

A: You have to consider what you get for your money in terms of entertainment. This only applies in the city. If I was a tourist, I would not go to a club in the city. This is another good reason to go to the Palomino.

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