CLEVELAND – Ohio`s adult entertainment industry tried to persuade a federal judge on Friday to overturn a law banning dancers at adult clubs from touching patrons or each other and argued that there is no connection between such clubs and any increase in crime.
The state of Ohio, which is defending the law and representing communities that must enforce it, argued before U.S. District Judge Solomon Oliver Jr. that adult clubs featuring exotic dancing lead to prostitution and other crimes and may cause declining property values.
The judge set aside two days for testimony on the challenge that claims the new law is vague and an unconstitutional violation of free speech and expression.
Seventeen attorneys representing adult businesses, the state of Ohio and cities that must enforce the law filled the courtroom, many sitting in the jury box.
“We have a full house today,” Oliver said.
J. Michael Murray, representing clubs that challenged the law, skipped an opening statement and said his case was detailed in written arguments filed with the court. Scott D. Bergthold, representing the state, made a brief opening statement and said similar laws have been upheld around the nation.
The day was dominated by a single witness and legal tangling involving Murray and Bergthold as they debated whether adult-oriented businesses lead to problems, including sex-related crimes.
Dozens of studies across the country that concluded restrictions on adult entertainment can prevent an increase in crime were unscientific, according to testimony by Daniel Linz, a communications and law and society professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Linz, who has reviewed such studies, testified on behalf of the adult clubs.
Attorneys representing the state challenged Linz`s credibility to testify on the issue and said he has no background in criminology. Oliver allowed Linz`s testimony.
Linz said that various studies on attempts to limit crime by restricting adult entertainment districts failed to compare those areas with other neighborhoods and sometimes reflected increased police patrols around adult entertainment businesses.
Under cross-examination, Bergthold tried to show that research published by Linz had been challenged by others in the field. He also tried to show that Linz had selectively chosen areas for comparison with crime rates around adult clubs.
Linz testified that the areas used for comparison had similar characteristics.
Bergthold tried to elicit testimony from Linz that seeing prostitution in an adult club amounted to evidence of a negative impact, but Linz said it was up to police to determine what constitutes prostitution.
The statewide crackdown on sexually oriented businesses, pushed by a conservative Christian group and adopted by the Republican-controlled state Legislature in May, was allowed to become law by Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland without his signature.
The law also halts nude dancing in strip clubs after midnight and prohibits adult bookstores and theaters from remaining open between midnight and 6 a.m. Business owners, who say the law is hurting business, sued after it took effect this fall.
Citizens for Community Values, the Cincinnati-based group that pushed for the law, argues that it will reduce prostitution and illegal drug use and decrease blight in neighborhoods where strip clubs operate.
The lawsuit, which names nearly 70 county prosecutors and local officials whose job it is to enforce the law, seeks a temporary restraining order or a permanent injunction to block enforcement of the new restrictions.
The judge expects testimony to continue through Monday.
The lawsuit is the latest attempt by strip club owners to block the law. Opponents failed last month to gather enough signatures to force a referendum asking voters to overturn it.