The laws Salt Lake City is using to force sexually oriented businesses out of town could be compared to using a sledge hammer to swat a mosquito, attorney Gerry Mooney contends.
The "overkill and intimidation" create an issue that Mooney hopes to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.Mooney represents the several city businesses that filed suit Monday against the city, asserting that the new ordinances are an unconstitutional attempt to deny civil rights to freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
The businesses are asking for an injunction against the city, preventing enforcement of the law. They also want 3rd District Judge Leonard Russon to declare new ordinances unconstitutional.
Assistant City Attorney Bruce Baird said the city was sensitive to constitutional issues when the ordinance was drafted and is prepared for the legal challenge.
"It's a huge lawsuit. We're not too worried about it in general. There may be some specifics we need to look at," Baird said.
When the City Council on April 5 adopted its strict business licensing and zoning ordinance regulating sexually oriented businesses, it was hailed as one of the most restrictive laws in the country.
The city's ordinance requires strict disclosure of the owners and partners of adult-oriented businesses and allows such establishments to operate only within a certain zone of the city, separated from churches, schools, parks, residential areas and the city's gateways.
The ordinance was adopted after extensive research of regulations in other communities that had been upheld through the court system. "Most of the sections in our ordinance were drawn from other ordinances and have been upheld (by the courts)," Baird said. "We didn't adopt certain other provisions from other jurisdictions because we have concerns about their constitutionality."
Baird did admit that Salt Lake City is the first municipality to legislate so many restrictions on sexually oriented businesses.
A hearing date has not been set.
The businesses suing the city include: Dream Escorts, AAA Entertainment, Playmates Escorts, Angels Escorts, Nouveau Riche Escorts and Utah Dancers Association.
Individuals listed as plaintiffs on the complaint are: Kimberly Guinther, president of Utah Dancers Association; Stephanie Kallas, a professional escort; W. Andrew McCullough and Ron Memmott, photographers who wish to take pictures of nude models, and Dan Hulst, who would like to view nude dancing, the suit says.
Mooney said the time is ripe for the issue to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. This case has gained national attention because it could set a precedent distinguishing between legitimate laws to regulate business and intimidating, discriminatory laws that seek to drive businesses out of town, he said.
"The laws intend to completely do away with escort services, talk studios, adult book stores and adult theaters," said Mooney.
The new laws will be applied in a discriminatory way because the city will ignore some violations and punish others, Mooney argues.
For instance, technically, many Utah movie theaters violate the laws by showing R-rated shows over consecutive weeks. However, Mooney doubts any action will be taken against them.
If Russon rules against Mooney based on federal law, Mooney will appeal the issue to the Utah Supreme Court. If the Utah appellate court upholds the district court judge's decision, then Mooney intends to argue the "timely issue" in the U.S. Supreme Court.