Officials: No merit to adult club employees’ lawsuit

LINCOLN PARK – Officials are confident their position will be upheld after the recent lawsuit filed by five employees of the Bada Bing! Lounge against the city alleging violation of First Amendment rights.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, challenges city ordinances that require owners and full-time employees of adult cabarets to register with the city and pay a $75 fee. It contends that the plaintiffs use dance to relay an erotic message, an expressive act that employees say is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, negating the need for them to register with the city and pay the fee.

Ariana York, 21, of Warren and Henry Ramirez, 33, of Lincoln Park are two of those plaintiffs. They were fined $100 in May 2009 after pleading guilty to violating the city’s adult cabaret ordinance.

“All it is is a licensing case,” City Attorney Edward Zelenak said. “We gave some tickets to people who didn’t get licenses as the ordinance applies to them.”

He believes the lawsuit is the employees’ attorney’s way of “slowing down the prosecution” of the city case, which is proceeding in 25th District Court.

“I presume his genuine interest is to defend these people who are being prosecuted,” Zelenak said.

Officials say the ordinance was created to establish reasonable and uniform regulations to minimize and control the negative secondary effects of adult cabarets in order to promote the health, safety and public welfare of the city.

But plaintiffs in the suit believe Bada Bing! is being treated more harshly by the city than the recently opened Larry Flynt Hustler Club, with published reports quoting them as saying the laws are systematically and continually enforced at the former while employees of the latter have gone unscathed.

Zelenak said because the Hustler Club is a topless club with a liquor license, it also is subject to state jurisdiction. Bada Bing! is an all-nude establishment with no liquor license, and therefore falls under city regulation.

“Anyone can dance nude on the stage over there,” Zelenak said of the latter establishment. “You just have to pay your $75 for a license.”

“We’re not stopping them from doing what they’re doing.”

As an example of the city’s efforts to meet constitutional standards, he cited the recent agreement in which the owners of the Hustler Club, located in a commerce park area on John A, Papalas Drive, were granted a license in part because they agreed to close the Park Theater, a longtime adult venue on Fort Street in the city’s downtown, which they also owned.

“This city is one of the most progressive in upholding the First Amendment,” Zelenak said. “It has a long history aimed at promoting and not stifling free expression.”

No date has been set yet for the lawsuit in U.S. District Court, however.