Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Knox Co. porn store owner will challenge obscenity law

The Associated Press

GRAY, Ky. - The owner of a new porn shop in Knox County wants to test Kentucky's obscenity law.

Dreamworld owner Jeree Mills, 58, and employee Belinda K. Brown, 38, were arrested on May 14 - just four days after their store opened - and charged with violating the state law against distributing obscene matter, a misdemeanor.

Mills and Brown pleaded not guilty and have a hearing scheduled for later this month.

Their attorney, H. Louis Sirkin of Cincinnati, said he will seek to have the charges dismissed. Sirkin has represented Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt and represents Flynt's brother, Jimmy, in his effort to open a Hustler store in Lexington.

Mills is determined to keep the store open, said store manager Leanna Philpot.

Philpot said Dreamworld shut down for more than three weeks after the arrests, but reopened June 3 after Mills consulted with Sirkin.

The county adopted an ordinance 11 years ago barring the sale of obscene material, and two stores stopped selling such material in response, the Rev. Leonard Lester said.

Some opponents mentioned pushing the county to enforce that rule in an attempt to close Dreamworld. However, the ordinance is modeled on state obscenity law, and would require the same court process to enforce.

Carl Bolton, chief deputy for the sheriff's office, said he did not anticipate more arrests until the courts provide some answers about whether the store's products are obscene.

The store sells pornographic magazines, sex toys and graphic movies.

The fiscal court put a 90-day moratorium on new adult-oriented businesses, but there's a question about whether that would stand up to a challenge, Deputy Judge-Executive Bruce Murphy said.

As a practical matter, he said, "If there was not a demand, there would be no supply."

Opponents of the store say they object to the store for a number of reasons, including concerns that it will drive down property values and draw sexual predators to the neighborhood. There are homes and businesses near the store, including a day-care center.

"It's going to bring what I consider bad elements into the community," said Darrell Warren, a Baptist minister who operates an auto-body repair shop next door.

Paul Frederick, who owns the day-care center and is a Baptist minister, said there are sex criminals in the county already. He is concerned that having pornography more readily available could put women and children at risk.

The state law at issue sets up a three-part test on what is obscene.

The test: to the average person, applying contemporary community standards, the predominant appeal of the material, taken as a whole, is to prurient interest in sexual conduct; and the material depicts the sexual conduct in a "patently offensive" way; and the material, taken as a whole, has no serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.

"You really don't know what's obscene until five justices of the (U.S.) Supreme Court say it is," Sirkin said.

And with explicit sexual material available on television and the Internet, defining contemporary community standards has gotten more complex.

Sirkin said his challenge to the charges against Mills and Brown will cite a decision from last year in which the Supreme Court struck down a Texas law against homosexual sodomy. The opinion is relevant because it affirmed a right to sexual privacy in one's home, Sirkin said.

That right encompasses a right to buy and sell materials such as those at Dreamworld, he argues.

"This is just an inherent American right to make decisions that affect me personally and do not harm anyone else," Sirkin said.

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