By Joel Hall
To protect the interests of his Crazy Horse Saloon and Pink Pony South, strip club magnate Jack Galardi is suing the city of Forest Park for $70 million in damages. The suit, which his attorney said was filed Friday afternoon in federal court in Atlanta, also seeks an injunction against a new city adult-entertainment ordinance that club operators say greatly alters how adult businesses within the city can operate.
The new ordinance, passed March 23 by a 4-to-1 vote of the city council, prohibits lap dancing, close contact between entertainers and patrons, and dimmed lighting at adult clubs. The ordinance also bans the sale and consumption of alcohol at the clubs as of Jan. 1, 2010.
Galardi's suit argues that "the actions of [the] defendants are directed at the intentional and willful destruction of [the] plaintiff's business." Based on the property value and potential earnings of both the Pink Pony and the Crazy Horse Saloon, Galardi is demanding "compensatory damages in an amount to be determined at trial, but not less than $70 million."
Aubrey Villines, Galardi's attorney, said earnings at both the Pink Pony South and Crazy Horse Saloon have dropped 20 percent since the passage of the city's new adult ordinance. He said if both clubs were to close, 300 jobs would be lost, and a number of local alcohol and food distributors would be negatively impacted.
"People have been calling asking if we are open and wondering if they are going to be harassed," Villines said. "We're part of the economy. It has a domino effect on businesses in the community."
In addition to the federal lawsuit, Villines filed a separate lawsuit in Clayton County Superior Court on Thursday on behalf of the Pink Pony South. The suit seeks to find the city of Forest Park in contempt of a June 21, 2007 consent judgment in which Judge Deborah Benefield ordered that the city of Forest Park was "legally obligated" to grant the Pink Pony South both adult entertainment and liquor licenses.
Councilwoman Sparkle Adams, who seconded a motion to approve the city's new adult entertainment ordinance, said she believes the ordinance was drafted in the best interest of the public.
"The city manager, the city attorneys, the chief of police and his staff, got together and they did a lot of research," said Adams. "There were loopholes in the law. We cleaned up our ordinances. It wasn't targeted towards any specific entity or person."
While the new ordinance prohibits entertainers from "solicit[ing] any pay, or gratuity, from any patron," Adams said the ordinance does not ban tipping. While the ordinance states "no patron shall directly pay, or give any gratuity to, any adult entertainer," she said entertainers can still receive tips indirectly.
"It's not saying that you cannot tip, it's saying that they cannot put it on their person," Adams said. "The tips are given for their performance, just like in a restaurant."
Villines said comparing restaurant tipping to strip club tipping was "a bad analogy."
"If there is no personal service you can identify, you will typically put it in a tip jar," he said. "How are you going to get tips directly or indirectly if you can't solicit for them?"
Councilman Donald Judson, who voted against the ordinance, was reached on Friday, but said he had no knowledge of the lawsuits and couldn't comment. Councilwoman Debbie Youmans, who motioned to approve the ordinance, as well as councilwomen Linda Lord and Maudie McCord, who both voted in favor of the ordinance, could not be reached for comment on Friday.
Forest Park City Manager John Parker said he had not received either lawsuit on Friday. He said Galardi has "a perfect right to enter those suits, but we have a right to defend what we have done.
"The ordinance that was developed for the city in regards to adult entertainment does not violate any federal or constitutional rights known to us," Parker said. "This ordinance was not aimed at any particular organization or group ... it was a general ordinance to govern all of those activities.
"This is both a health and a safety issue," he added. "This does not stop tipping or the exchange of monetary funds. It's just the manner in which the funds are transmitted."