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    Judge: Lap dancing law is sound

    The ruling directly affects about 18 dancers and customers facing charges in James Dominguez's court.

    By DAVID KARP

    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 15, 2001


    TAMPA -- Lap dancing can be banned.

    That's what County Judge James Dominguez decided Wednesday in a ruling that upheld the city ordinance that drew national attention during Super Bowl XXXV.

    In a Valentine's Day opinion -- the timing apparently the coincidence of scheduling -- Dominguez said the Tampa City Council was within its constitutional rights to prohibit lap dancing, in which a nude woman gyrates to music in a man's lap. The ordinance is even broader than that, requiring a 6-foot separation between customers and nude women inside a strip club.

    "The dancers are free to express their erotic message," Dominguez wrote in his ruling, "even though they must do so from a distance of at least 6 feet."

    The ruling directly affects about 18 dancers and customers facing charges in Dominguez's court. Five other county judges -- who heard arguments as a panel with Dominguez last year -- must still rule.

    Each judge will issue a separate ruling and may disagree with Dominguez's order, which held that a lap dance was not speech protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

    Whatever happens, the case is hardly over.

    Larry Wolfe, owner of the Seven Seas strip club on Kennedy Boulevard, stood on the courthouse steps Wednesday in a double-breasted silver suit and ponytail, vowing to appeal.

    "The case is not over until the fat lady sings, and I have her tied and gagged in the back of my car," Wolfe said.

    City officials said they were pleased with the decision and pledged to continue to make arrests. "The citizens don't have any idea how out of control it is in some of these clubs," said Tampa police Capt. Jane Castor, who heads the department's Criminal Intelligence Bureau. "It's wild."

    While the ordinance attracted wide attention during the Super Bowl after the NFL warned players they could be arrested if they ignored the ban, no arrests were made.

    The defendants facing charges in Dominguez's court must now decide whether to plead guilty or go to trial. The maximum penalty for violating the ordinance is a $1,000 fine or six months in jail. Dominguez hinted he would go easy on first-time lap dancers.

    "If there is one offense and one offense only, I will take it into consideration," he said.

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