Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Clubs to challenge new law

Owners say they're unfairly linked with escort services

By Cindy Schroeder
Enquirer staff writer

COVINGTON - Owners of four Covington "gentlemen's clubs'' say they will challenge a new Kenton County law regulating sexually oriented businesses because it violates their freedoms of speech and expression.

They plan to file suit in federal court by Friday, said Jeffrey Willis, CEO of La Foxx Club Group, which owns Rodney's La Foxx Cabaret and Viva La Foxx Cabaret.

H. Louis Sirkin, a Cincinnati lawyer who has defended Hustler publisher Larry Flynt and other adult businesses nationwide, is expected to file the suit on behalf of Willis' businesses, plus Club Venus and The Pad.

"We're all for regulation,'' Willis said. "That makes our job easier. But this ordinance goes too far.''

Willis said club owners are especially upset by the provision that prohibits dancers from mingling with the audience and talking with customers.

"Since when do they have the right to tell someone they can't talk to someone else?'' Willis said. He said the clubs he runs are being "unfairly lumped'' with other businesses such as escort services and massage parlors.

Kenton County Attorney Garry Edmondson said he is not surprised by the challenge.

He predicted Kenton County's ordinance will withstand constitutional muster.

"Absolutely everything we have in there has been upheld by various courts around the country,'' Edmondson said. "We simply have collected a whole series of regulations and ordinances that have been challenged and were upheld.''

Sirkin was out of town Monday and could not be reached for comment.

More than a year in the making, the sexually oriented business law specifies operating conditions and licensing fees for businesses and employees providing live, sexually oriented entertainment. It also regulates Northern Kentucky's escort services industry for the first time.

Critics say escort services are hard to monitor because they often operate out of private homes or motels. The new ordinance requires escort services to have an office in Kenton County and its employees and managers to be licensed.

Willis said employees and managers of gentlemen's clubs already pay an annual $155 licensing fee to Covington under its licensing law and would pay double that when the county ordinance takes effect.

"I'm sure we can work out something that's fair,'' Covington City Solicitor Jay Fossett said. He said the intent is to have up-to-date legislation that covers the cost of regulating adult businesses, not to create "further economic hardship.''

Kenton Fiscal Court approved the law regulating adult bookstores, strip clubs, escort services and other sexually oriented businesses Aug. 17. Businesses have until Oct. 30 to file the required paperwork. Kenton County officials had hoped to wait until Campbell County Fiscal Court gave preliminary approval to a similar ordinance, but those efforts were delayed when the county tried to reconcile its ordinance with Newport's.

Edmondson said operators of sexually oriented businesses recently opened establishments elsewhere in Kentucky and he wanted to have Kenton County's law in place soon.

"I'm hopeful of getting something before (Campbell) Fiscal Court for a first reading next month,'' Campbell County Attorney Justin Verst said.

Establishing Campbell and Kenton counties as one community would keep smaller cities from having to allow adult businesses, supporters of the legislation say. A second part of the study by Duncan Associates, an Austin, Texas consulting firm hired by the counties and cities, will identify potential adult business zones.


E-mail cschroeder@enquirer.com

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