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Pasco adult clubs sue to strike new law

Last month the county banned customer-client contact and established a get-tough policy for violators.

By JAMES THORNER

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 27, 2001


HUDSON -- After last month's passage of a Pasco County adult business ordinance, Lollipops exotic dance club asked its performers to remove their revealing nipple tape and dress themselves in bikini tops.

That mandatory move toward modesty angers Lollipops owner Bob Mansur, who blames the new county regulations for slower liquor sales at his go-go bar on U.S. 19 in Hudson.

"Hooters now shows more t--- than I do," Mansur complained Wednesday. "Beaches shows more t--- than us."

What's the owner of a sexually-oriented business to do? Take the county to court.

Earlier this week, Mansur and three other owners of adult businesses in Hudson challenged Pasco's ordinance in U.S. District Court in Tampa.

Mansur and his counterparts at Calendar Girls, Players Club and 42nd Street Video claim the regulations flout their First Amendment right to free speech.

The first part of the county ordinance, approved in 1999, requires adult businesses to close shop and move to industrial areas by the end of this month.

In March, county commissioners banned customer-client contact and established a three-strikes-you're-out policy for violations.

The county's legal department said go-go bars, lingerie studios, massage parlors and their ilk encourage prostitution and drug use, spread disease, and suppress property values.

But Lollipops and the other establishments are no more of a neighborhood nuisance than restaurants, bars and similar non-adult businesses, said Luke Lirot, attorney for the Pasco businesses.

Lirot requested a court injunction to stop Pasco from enforcing the ordinance and demanded financial compensation for his clients' loss of customers.

"We don't think it's legitimate to put somebody out of business for no legitimate reason," said Lirot, best known for representing Tampa strip club kingpin Joe Redner.

The county attorney's office rejected Lirot's argument as a red herring.

The county doesn't need to prove adult businesses disproportionately cause social problems, only that they cause enough problems to harm public welfare, assistant county attorney Sid Kilgore said.

"Luke sold his argument in an Illinois court and he's very proud of that," Kilgore said. "But that argument's not going to fly in Florida."

Within the next month, the county will begin enforcing the ordinance, starting with notices urging businesses to comply. Code inspections will follow.

Depending on the reading of the ordinance, go-go bars such as Lollipops that have covered their dancers' breasts may pass inspection. But Mansur and the others aren't so sure. The lawsuit is their insurance.

Pasco favors stronger measures to close the modeling studios, massage parlors and exotic spas. County attorneys believe they are fronts for prostitution.

"The Sheriff's Office will take the lead in getting us the evidence," Kilgore said.

Mansur suspects the county's intention is to zone him out of existence. Moving to an industrial area -- assuming a landowner would even sell to an adult business -- would cost him $200,000, he said.

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