0

City delays enforcing new adult ordinance

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

The City of Forest Park agreed Thursday not to enforce provisions of its new adult entertainment ordinance until a federal judge can decide if they are legal. As part of the agreement, lawyers for strip club magnate Jack Galardi said they will halt claims for damages in a $70 million lawsuit seeking to overturn the ordinance.

In an hearing before U.S. District Judge Richard W. Story, Aubrey Villines, Galardi's attorney, said the agreement helps both parties by allowing Galardi's businesses, Pink Pony South and the Crazy Horse Saloon, to continue to operate in Forest Park, while removing the possibility of Forest Park suffering a $70 million judgment.

"We both have exposure and potential, huge, damages," Villines said. "If we were not allowed to operate, by the time we were able to adjudicate, we would have millions of dollars in damages. [The agreement] stops the enforcement of portions of the ordinance ... and it allows us to resolve the issues. If they can't be resolved, then we move to trial."

Forest Park's new adult entertainment ordinance, passed March 23 by a 4-1 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 after Jan. 1, 2010.

According to Joe Harris, Forest Park's attorney, while Story reviews the merits of the new ordinance, the following provisions will not be enforced:

· A four-foot distance requirement between adult entertainers and patrons

· A requirement that entertainers perform only on a stage, intended solely for that purpose, raised at least 18 inches from the ground

· Prohibitions on dimmed lighting

· Requirements which prohibit touching and directly tipping adult entertainers.

"We did have things that prohibited direct tipping and we are not going to enforce that," Harris said. "They can still touch them to tip them, but as long as they don't touch certain anatomical areas."

Harris said he is pleased with the agreement between the two parties and believes it spares Forest Park taxpayers the burden of a potentially costly lawsuit.

"It makes a lot of sense to do this," Harris said. "Now we can get to the discovery, and go forward on the merits of the case without exposing the city to a sizable amount of damages. Not that we would lose, but why take the risk? Let the court make that decision without having to worry about damages in the meantime.

"I could see this lasting as long as nine months, or even a year," Harris continued. "If [Story] finds something wrong with the ordinance, we can always fix it."

Forest Park City Manager John Parker said the agreement between the city and Galardi was a "prudent" decision.

"It allows the court to make a decision without all of the clutter of the other issues that were once being discussed," he said. "It works out, as it does, for both sides."

In a separate lawsuit, Terry Stephenson, owner of Tops Showbar, is suing Forest Park for delaying and denying him an adult entertainment license to operate a new strip club next to the Crazy Horse Saloon. Earlier this month, Story denied his request to force the city to issue him adult entertainment and alcohol licenses.

Stephenson's attorney, Alan Begner, has argued that the city has shown favoritism to Galardi and his businesses, and said he believes Thursday's agreement supports his argument.

"I argued that the city has a long-standing alliance with Galardi and that they never had any intention of enforcing the ordinance on them," Begner said. "What happened today is an affirmation of that argument."

Begner said he will continue to pursue damages against the city.

Parker described the city's relationship with Galardi as "at arm's length," and said he does not feel "one way or the other" about Thursday's decision.

"Mr. Begner has the absolute right, to be wrong," Parker said.