Originally created 08/29/00

Shop's license escapes probation



Commissioners didn't want to look, but they did anyway.

A panel of Augusta commissioners insisted they weren't interested in seeing items confiscated last month from Lucy's Love Shop - a lingerie and novelty store on Washington Road.

"If they say it's a love shop, you know they ain't sellin' yo-yos," public services committee Chairman Richard Colclough said when officials offered to show his panel an example of "obscene material."

But after nearly an hour of sidestepping what proved to be a sensitive subject for local officials, the public services committee deadlocked 2-2 on what its recommendation to the full board should be concerning shop owner Michelle Ballington's business license.

"Unless someone wants to volunteer to be a great expert on this matter, with all the stuff we've got to deal with, why is this here?" Commissioner Willie Mays asked of the bags of confiscated items on the committee chamber table.

"When a place opens up like this, and you have an ad for lingerie and novelties, what do you think - in a common-sense mode - people are selling in there?"

The store, located in the shopping center behind California Dreaming restaurant, was raided by Richmond County Sheriff's Department deputies July 22. A store clerk was charged with distributing obscene material, and six boxes filled with sex toys and other items were carried away.

Attorneys representing the shop owner argued to commissioners that the sale of Lucy's wares is a First Amendment right: freedom of expression.

"Until the court determines if this is obscene or not, we ask that you table the issue," said Scott King, a local lawyer.

A criminal case against shop employee Lisa Williams is pending in Magistrate Court, but Augusta commissioners were faced Monday with deciding what action, if any, would be taken against the business owner: probation, suspension or revocation of her business license.

With halted speech and carefully chosen euphemisms, commissioners debated their responsibilities for enforcing a state code that makes it illegal to sell items "primarily for the stimulation of the human genital organ."

Investigator Roderick Berry of the sheriff's department's vice unit asked the committee to recommend placing the shop's business license on probation or suspension. It is the first time the store has been cited for violating the ordinance since it opened in June.

A motion made by Commissioner Jerry Brigham to put the shop under probation until after the shop employee charged has been criminally prosecuted failed with the deadlock vote. Mr. Brigham and Commissioner Bill Khulke voted for the motion, and Mr. Colclough and Mr. Mays voted against it.

The item will be placed on the agenda of the next full commission meeting Sept. 5.

Reach Heidi Coryell at (706) 823-3215.