Thursday, August 29, 2002

Two more hotels pull sex movies

By Michael D. Clark,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEWPORT — Two more Tristate hotels have agreed, under pressure from a local prosecutor and police, to remove adult, in-room movies after complaints from anti-pornography activists.

        It's an unusual strategy, say its proponents and national experts, and a further sign that Greater Cincinnati continues to take a leading role nationally in battling the distribution of sexually explicit materials.

[photo] Comfort Suites hotel on Riverboat Row in Newport
(Enquirer photo)
        Campbell County prosecutors this month warned owners of the Comfort Suites hotel on Riverboat Row in Newport that they should cease offering adult movies to guests or face criminal charges.

        Spurred by complaints from supporters of local anti-pornography activists from Sharonville-based Citizens for Community Values, Campbell County Prosecutor Justin Verst, working with Newport police, had officers secretly check into the hotel and videotape six adult movies.

        Mr. Verst then sent a letter, dated Aug. 7, warning Comfort Suites officials that he believed that offering the movies, which he described as “hard-core pornographic material,” violated Kentucky law regarding distribution of obscene matter.

        Two days later Comfort Suites officials responded by removing the adult movies.

        Soon after, Mr. Verst said, other complaints prompted a Newport police investigation of the Travelodge, 220 York St.

        Officers told owners to stop offering explicit adult videotape rentals to adult guests for viewing on in-room VCRs, and the owners complied.

        Phil Burress, president of CCV, said his group's new strategy of targeting explicit adult movies offered by hotels is the first of its sort in the nation, and that more Tristate hotels will soon be investigated by CCV supporters.

        “The snowball is rolling now,” said Mr. Burress of his group's tactic that has affected three Tristate hotels in a month.

        Bruce Taylor, president and chief counsel for the National Law Center for Children and Families, said no other anti-pornography group in the country has successfully pressured three hotels within one region to drop adult movies.

        “That's unique,” Mr. Taylor, a former federal prosecutor, said Wednesday from the center's Fairfax, Va., headquarters.

        He said that the Tristate's history of prosecuting obscenity — made famous beginning in the 1970s with Hamilton County's legal battles with Hustler publisher Larry Flynt — adds to the leverage the CCV wields.

        “You have such a commitment and successful history of prosecution ... that the prosecutors only have to tell the hotels to remove the movies,” he said.

        Earlier this month CCV officials grabbed national attention when they announced that their supporters had videotaped adult movies in the Marriott Northeast hotel in Deerfield Township and forwarded them to Warren County Prosecutor Tim Oliver. Mr. Oliver said be believed the movies violated Ohio's obscenity laws and warned Marriott officials of possible criminal charges, prompting them to remove the movies.

        “I'd be very surprised if other actions are not taken by other prosecutors against hotels that are dealing in hard-core pornography,” said Mr. Burress, who declined to reveal any details.

        The CCV, which was founded in 1983 as an anti-pornography, pro-family advocacy group, has been a high-profile lobbying force against Tristate pornography and what it claims are its detrimental effects on families, individuals and society.

        But civil liberties advocates blasted CCV's strategy as unfair to adults who say actions against their limited entertainment options might soon be followed by other restrictions imposed by watchdog groups.

        “The CCV is trying to export their own Taliban style of fundamentalism,” said Scott Greenwood, general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and a Cincinnati-based attorney.

        Mr. Greenwood said the anti-pornography group's latest strategy, focusing on mostly out-of-town travelers and tourists, “points out to a more pressing problem of why does the CCV find it so necessary to go after people who don't even live here.”

        He said he is not surprised that hotels quickly choose to remove such adult entertainment rather than engage in litigation.

        “They don't have deep pockets and these hotels are in business to make money, not to defend the First Amendment,” he said.

        CCV officials estimate that 40 percent of the nation's hotels offer adult movie options, accounting for about 90 percent of pay-per-view revenue. An Enquirer phone survey last year showed that more than half of 20 Hamilton County hotels queried provided such entertainment.

        H. Louis Sirkin, a First Amendment and Cincinnati trial attorney, described CCV as a “vigilante group” whose only power comes from prosecutors he claims are not protecting citizens' rights.

        “What's really frightening about this is that there are local prosecutors who are willing to forget their constitutional oath to protect the First Amendment,” said Mr. Sirkin, who added that “it's really easy to scare people and that's what the local governments are doing to the hotels.”

        Mr. Sirkin, who has represented Mr. Flynt and was defense counsel during the city's famous Robert Mapplethorpe obscenity trial against the Contemporary Arts Center exhibition of his photos in 1990, said, “It's disturbing to me that Cincinnati is getting a national reputation for this and that's one of the reasons the city is going stale.”

        Travelodge management was unavailable for comment but Chester Musselman, CEO of Louisville-based Musselman Hotels and owner of the Comfort Suites at 420 Riverboat Row, said this is the first time such a complaint has been lodged against any of his 25 hotels in Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee.

        “This is not an issue to us,” Mr. Musselman said. “I'm running a business and I'll abide by the local laws.”

        Mr. Verst stated in an Aug. 22 letter to Comfort Suites that Newport police will “occasionally check your business to ensure that no further such pornographic movies are being shown,” or criminal charges will be filed.

        Mr. Burress said that “no doubt some people will label this action a violation of privacy (but) it's not a matter of violating privacy or of imposing values. It's a matter of law.

        “This is not about what someone views in the privacy of their home or hotel room,” he said.

        “This is about selling and distributing obscenity. There are state laws against that and major hotels are not above the law.”


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