Lapdances, Constitutionally Protected Free Speech!

Judge’s ruling protects lap dancing as free speech

Dancer was cited in April 2005 after ‘prohibited touching’ of undercover officer

June 30, 2007

Lap dances are legal in Salem, protected by the Oregon Constitution’s free speech provisions, a Marion County judge ruled this week.

A city ordinance outlawing “prohibited touching” — sexually exciting physical contact for pay — has been ruled unconstitutional by Circuit Judge Albin Norblad.

The case involves Laurel Guillen, 24, a dancer at a northeast Salem club called Cheetah’s who gave a lap dance to an undercover officer in April 2005.

Salem residents hoping to limit strip club activity in the city called the ruling a setback.

“You see what they’ve done, they’ve taken free speech and they’ve stretched it to cover everything,” said South Salem resident Julia Allison, a member of Oregonians Protecting Neighborhoods. The group hopes to put a ballot measure before voters amending the state constitution to strengthen government regulation of strip clubs.

Two Salem strip clubs shrugged the ruling off Friday, saying it wouldn’t affect their business because they don’t allow lap dancing.

“We have table dances, where our entertainers stay 6 to 12 inches away at all times,” said Claude DeCorsi, manager of Star’s Cabaret. “Any victory for the adult industry, way to go, but it doesn’t really apply to us.”

Frank Boussad, owner of Presley’s Playhouse Cabaret, said his club also limits activity to table dances. “We don’t allow lap dancing,” he said. “We just try to run a real clean establishment.”

Cheetah’s is a “juice bar” club located on Silverton Road NE, which does not serve alcohol and is open to people 18 and older.

Court records say the officer paid Guillen for touching “her pelvis to his pelvis area and thigh for the purpose of arousing sexual excitement.”

Guillen was found guilty of prohibited touching in Salem Municipal Court in November 2006, fined $250 and sentenced to a year’s probation. She appealed her conviction to the circuit court.

In his ruling, which lawyers received in the mail this week, Norblad cited an Oregon Supreme Court case in which the high court found it legal under the state’s free speech protections for a stripper to rub her breasts against a man’s chest and perform a live sex show with another woman.

Norblad threw out the charge and found Guillen not guilty.

Guillen’s attorney, Kevin Lafky, said the city’s ordinance was written too broadly.

“Laws can applied arbitrarily,” Lafky said. “A whole host of very normal conduct, such as theater performance, movie making, photography — things of that nature — would be illegal under this ordinance as well.”

The ruling also applies, Lafky said, to a second dancer Salem police cited for prohibited touching during the same sting operation at Cheetah’s, Portland resident Stephenie Lawrow, 22.

Guillen, who lives in Gresham, did not respond to phone messages left Friday. No one at Cheetah’s was available for comment.

Salem City Attorney Randall Tosh said he was not prepared to comment Friday.

“We’re going to be doing a review of the ordinance in light of the case, and make some sort of determination to see if we can appeal it,” he said. “We’re considering our options.”

Allison said she hopes some action will be taken.

“I’m a moralist, I guess,”she said. “It’s disgusting. It’s another form of prostitution to me. You can’t tell me that they sit on their laps and that’s it.”

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*Madhuri Dixit