An attorney is vowing to fight to the Supreme Court unless Salt Lake County removes requirements that customers sign their names before getting service from escort operators and other businesses deemed sexually oriented.
Attorney Stephen R. Cook, who recently sued the county on behalf of a group of dancers, escort services, patrons and artists, said the county's requirement to demand names is a blatant violation of con-stitutional rights."That's part of what we fought the American Revolution for," Cook said. "The British made people sign their names to newspaper articles and other writings so they could throw them in jail. You have a right to speak anonymously. This is straight from the KGB operating manual."
County officials agonized Monday over the part of the ordinance requiring names, deciding to wait a week before resolving the issue. The county passed the ordinance in November but never enforced it. Instead, county attorneys spent months negotiating with business owners in an effort to avoid a suit. The talks failed.
Health officials said they want the names of customers so investigators will have an easier time tracking sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS.
Lewis Garrett, director of family health services for the Salt Lake City-County Health Department, said 11 percent of escort service employees test positive for sexually transmitted diseases each year. He estimated only about 1 percent of the general population has such diseases.
The ordinance requires employees of sexually oriented businesses to submit to yearly blood tests.
Police said they want the names of customers so investigators can more easily make arrests if, for instance, an escort is beaten by a customer.
But some county officials worry about the rights of the customers. Escort services are allowed to provide companionship for paying customers. They are prohibited from engaging in sexual activity.
"Are they (customers) doing something illegal?" asked Lonnie Johnson, the county's public works director. "It's illegal to drive drunk, but we don't require people to sign their name every time they buy a drink."
Cook said the name requirement will force escort services out of business. "Then, all that will be left are illegal prostitutes," he said.
County officials seem willing to bend in order to settle the suit. They have scheduled a closed meeting next week to discuss changes in the ordinance.
In addition to the name requirement, Cook said he objects to parts of the ordinance that would:
- Allow escorts to operate only from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m.
- Make simulated sexual activity a crime.
- Prohibit dancers from touching themselves in certain places.
- Force existing taverns to move.
- Make owners of sexually oriented businesses pay full yearly licensing fees even if they begin at the end of the year.
- Make a dancer liable if a customer masturbates.
The suit asks for a preliminary injunction and a restraining order against the county enforcing the ordinance.