BOISE – Bar owners in southwest Idaho say they are moving forward with their lawsuit against the state despite Idaho lawmakers tweaking the same liquor laws that prompted the legal action.
Idaho law currently bans serving alcohol during nude or sexually explicit live performances. However, the Legislature amended that statute this year to exempt certain businesses that do not primarily derive its business from explicit live adult entertainment.
It’s a law that’s been at the center of several lawsuits as multiple critics have scrutinized the state’s strict liquor law system for possible changes. Most recently, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho agreed to pause ongoing litigation to allow the Legislature time to amend the questionable laws.
During this debate, Shannon Fairchild and Levi Burden, a couple who own The Intersection in New Meadows, sued the Idaho State Police hoping to recoup the fines they paid for violating those strict liquor laws in 2015.
Back then, Fairchild and Burden decided to host a burlesque show at their establishment, where they sold tickets to provide drinks and dinner during the show. Two undercover officers attended the event and later issued the couple a citation for breaking Idaho’s strict liquor laws because alcoholic drinks were served while a portion of the performers’ female breasts were exposed.
Fairchild and Burden were forced to pay a fine of several thousand dollars and agreed to a 15-day suspension of their alcohol license.
“These are tremendous people,” said Deborah Ferguson, a Boise attorney representing the couple. “I think it is ridiculous that Idaho would do a sting operation at their place. A liquor license is extremely valuable in Idaho, to threaten to take that away leaves people no choice but to pay the fine.”
A spokesman for the Idaho attorney general’s office – which is representing the state police in the lawsuit – declined to comment because the case is ongoing.
Ferguson said the couple is moving forward with the lawsuit even though the law has been changed because they want assurance they won’t be punished again for holding a similar performance in the future. They are seeking an unspecified amount in damages from ISP.
The lawsuit, which was filed in January, is filed in federal court because the owners also claim that ISP violated their First Amendment rights to free speech of artistic, non-obscene expression.
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