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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Adult store challenge begins

SEYMOUR, Ind. -- Jackson Superior Court Judge Frank Guthrie heard arguments yesterday in a lawsuit asking him to shut down an adult video store that has been open for almost two weeks near Uniontown.

Guthrie told lawyers for both sides and more than 100 residents, most of whom want the store closed, that he would rule after considering briefs and supporting documents.

He gave no indication when that would be, but he said the attorneys had seven days to submit orders that they would like him to issue.

The judge's action means that the store, called the Lion's Den, will stay open at least for now just off Interstate 65.

Demonstrators have been outside the entrance to the business since before it opened. And they indicated yesterday that they would continue to protest with signs that ask passing motorists to honk their horns in support.

"We're not going to go away," Ray Owen, 71, of Uniontown, a leader of the opposition to the Lion's Den, said after yesterday's hearing.

Ralph Sweany, 67, one of the protesters stationed on Ind. 250 outside the store yesterday morning, also attended the hearing and made a similar point afterward.

"Well, I'm sorry they didn't stop them right now," Sweany said.

"I had a little hope for that. But I know how the court system needs to consider everything."

Jackson County Attorney Rodney Farrow, who argued the case with the assistance of Scott Bergthold, a lawyer from Chattanooga, said he had not expected a ruling yesterday "because I know the complexity of the case."

The suit, which was filed Aug. 19, the same day the Lion's Den opened, is based on an ordinance the Jackson County Board of Commissioners had passed three days earlier.

One of its provisions requires that sexually oriented businesses get a permit from the county before they open.

The suit asks the judge to enjoin the store from operating because no such permit was obtained.

Michael Murray, a Cleveland lawyer representing the Lion's Den, presented his arguments first. He told Guthrie that one of the main questions was "whether or not the rule of law is going to be followed in Jackson County."

Among other things, Murray contended that because the ordinance limits the locations of adult businesses -- prohibiting them within 1,000 feet of churches, schools, residences and other buildings -- it is "in essence" a zoning law.

State zoning laws, Murray said, require notice and public hearings before an ordinance takes effect. Because those provisions were not followed in this case, the ordinance regulating adult businesses didn't take effect Aug. 16, when it was passed, and cannot now be applied to the Lion's Den.

He also said the ordinance is "pockmarked with unconstitutionality."

Bergthold, who argued next, was hired by the county Tuesday night to help Farrow, the county attorney, pursue the case.

He also assisted the city of New Albany after it passed an adult business ordinance. A federal ruling in that case, which allowed the store to open, is being appealed.

Citing cases that he said supported his position, Bergthold contended that federal judges have permitted communities to regulate adult businesses and have said that zoning requirements don't always have to be followed.

"It was not a zoning ordinance," Bergthold said of the measure passed by the commissioners, adding that there are many places where an adult bookstore could legally be built in Jackson County. But the present location of the store, he said, is not one of them.

Before yesterday's proceedings, a crowd of more than 100 people opposed to the store filed into the courtroom, lining the walls and packing the eight benches.

Joe Butler, a retired doctor from Crothersville, said he and others had come "to let the judge know the community is interested in this case."

Jackson County was stunned earlier this year by the abduction and murder of 10-year-old Katlyn "Katie" Collman, whose body was found in late January, five days after she disappeared. Anthony Stockelman, 38, of Seymour has been charged with sexually molesting and murdering her.

Partly because of the Collman case, opposition to the store has been intense.

Fifteen protesters were arrested Aug. 12 and charged with disorderly conduct and obstructing access to the store, which was under construction at the time.

Guthrie said at the start of yesterday's proceedings that he was pleased to see the courtroom so full, but that he would remove anyone who was disruptive.

The crowd was silent throughout the arguments, and they left the courtroom quietly.


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