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Woman will Fight Texas Dildo Law

BURLESON, Tx — Described as “tall and buxom with a curly blond mane and legs made for the miniskirts she wore,” Joanne Webb, according to the Houston Chronicle, raised eyebrows and incited whispers throughout the religiously conservative community of Burleson, Texas where she came to live a decade ago.

Webb, a daughter of a Marine Corps colonel, was a tireless civic volunteer who won numerous accolades from organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, Read with Kids, the Special Olympics and other worthwhile causes.

But besides the fact that she was a sexily dressed woman of civic virtue, Webb got in a middle of a war with authorities over dildos when she got busted in a sting operation for selling sex products during private, in-home get-togethers which were organized much like Tupperware parties.

Acting on a complaint, two officers from the drug task force, posing as man and wife, met Webb at her husband’s office and inquired about her products. Webb showed them a catalogue and asked if they were interested in hosting a party. They declined but asked to buy two dildos.

Later, Webb received a call from police headquarters informing her an arrest warrant had been issued and requesting that she turn herself in.

On the face of it, Webb doesn’t sound like someone who’d get busted for dildos [they accounted for about 15 percent of her business, alone]. She met her husband in the Baptist Student Union at the University of Texas at San Antonio. She’s a former elementary schoolteacher and mother of three; and a Catholic who converted to the faith her husband practiced and taught in Sunday school.

But last summer, to supplement the family income while her husband’s custom home building business was in a slump, Webb signed on with a San Francisco-based company called Passion Parties, which markets its products through home parties.

According to Passion Parties, a 10-year-old, $20 million-a-year company with 3,000 sales “consultants” in the United States, no one working for them has ever been charged with obscenity. That is, until now. Which makes Webb’s case that more intriguing.

Webb, as the other consultants, sold creams, lotions, scents, powders, massage kits and books. Many of her customer were wives of police officers. But it was Texas law defining an obscene device that brought the cops to Webb’s door: “A device, including dildo or artificial vagina, designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs.” It wasn’t the fact that Webb sold dildos that got her into trouble.

According to Texas law, it’s not illegal to buy dildos or to own them. It’s not even illegal to sell them, provide you use some cutesy, euphemistic disclaimer, referring to them as “novelties.” But Webb, calling a spade a spade, sold them as aids to sexual enhancement.

BeAnn Sisemore, a Fort Worth attorney, is representing Webb and is currently consulting with other attorneys who’ve successfully challenged similar laws in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.

Sisemore says the law is patently unconstitutional and refers to the Webb case as the first one that has made her glad she’s a lawyer. What makes Sisemore’s approach to the Webb case unique, is the fact that she’s dragging the whole condom issue along with Wal-Marts and drug stores into the issue. The language on condom packages spells out the fact that they’re aids to sexual enhancement.

“Wal-Mart is violating the statute,” Sisemore tells The Chronicle. “So are the drugstores and everyone else who sells condoms.”

Another provision of the Texas statute says, “A person who possesses six or more obscene devices … is presumed to possess them with intent to promote (sell) the same.”

Sisemore concluded, therefore, that not only are Eckerd and Walgreens selling “obscene devices,” but anyone with more than six condoms at home is subject to arrest. Sisemore’s of the belief that the government has over stepped its boundaries in the Webb case and is curious as to who dropped the dime on Webb since there are eight other Passion Parties consultants in the Burleson area who have not been rousted by the drug task force or any other law enforcement agency.

It’s suspected that Webb’s miniskirts and hairstyles have brought undo attention, and there was an instance two years ago when the pastor of their Baptist Church suggested that she should change her attire or find another place to worship. But Webb’s main critic has been identified as Shanda Perkins, whose brother, Stuart Gillespie, is a city councilman who promotes his religious beliefs on the city’s Web site. Their mother is Gloria Gillespie, pastor of the Steppingstone Family Church and a force in getting the city’s sexually oriented business ordinance enacted.

Perkins, her mother and brother have denied being behind Webb’s arrest. Although it was Perkins, who after Webb’s arrest, persuaded the Chamber of Commerce board to set a dress code for female Ambassadors: Skirts could be no shorter than three inches above the knees.

According to Johnson County attorney Bill Moore, Webb’s case is going forward.

Sisemore, meanwhile, is preparing motions to challenge the constitutionality of the statute. She says she hopes the presiding state judge “is brave enough to see the conflict between the constitution and the law.”

Chris Webb tells the Houston Chronicle that the Burleson police and the county prosecutor were unprepared for his wife’s resistance to the charge.

“There was a gross miscalculation of what the response would be,” he says. “They thought she would come in, plead guilty, pay a fine and this would go away. They didn’t anticipate she would fight back and this would get national attention.”
 

 

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