An adult arcade has filed suit against Spokane County to pre serve the right of exotic dancers to perform on customers’ laps.
The suit filed Monday by Deja Vu Inc. alleges that the county’s new adult entertainment ordinance violates First Amendment rights to offer “non-obscene dance entertainment and motion picture films.”
In November, county commissioners approved the ordinance, which requires a distance of 4 feet between dancers and their customers. If the ordinance stands, it will prohibit scantily clad entertainers from squatting, grinding and gyrating in their customers’ laps.
County officials say the rule will prevent prostitution. Deja Vu attorney Jack Burns argues that prostitution is not a problem at the club and that the ordinance will force the Deja Vu Gentlemen’s Club out of business.
Exotic dancers at the Spokane Valley club earn a few dollars in tips for stripping on stage but say lap dances are their primary source of income. Men pay $12 for the dances, which are offered nowhere else in the county and sometimes are marketed as “couch dances” or “Texas couch dances.”
The ordinance also requires that employees can keep tabs on customers who use “viewing booths” to watch erotic movies. Burns argues that rule, which would require remodeling, is overly burdensome and intrusive.
Deja Vu is asking a U.S. District judge to overturn the ordinance and award unspecified damages and attorneys’ fees. In addition, the company seeks an injunction prohibiting enforcement of the ordinance until the suit is settled.
The county had planned to start enforcement March 4, said Patti Walker, the deputy county prosecutor who wrote the ordinance. It’s not clear whether a judge can rule on the injunction before then. If not, enforcement will probably be delayed, Walker said.
The suit surprises no one in the industry or county government.
“It’s what we expected,” said Walker.
Roger Forbes, the Seattle businessman who is the majority partner of Deja Vu’s seven Washington clubs, has fought similar ordinances in several West Side communities.
He has never won a major victory but in several cases has prevented communities from enforcing ordinances for a year or two.
Last May, Forbes and his chief competitor lost a landmark case when the state Supreme Court upheld the city of Bellevue’s 1994 ordinance, which is nearly identical to Spokane County’s.
Burns, who has represented Deja Vu since 1976, said he’s confident he’ll win this case because the county has little proof of crime at the club. However, courts have ruled in past cases that cities and counties can rely on the experiences of other communities to show that adult arcades contribute to crime like prostitution.
Dancers, who are self-employed rather than employees of the club, joined Deja Vu’s suits in Bellevue and other communities. Burns said he doesn’t know whether any will join the court battle in Spokane.