Originally created 02/23/01

Georgia strip club owner sues



WOODBINE, Ga. - The owner of a Darien strip club lost only one battle with Camden County officials in the Georgia Supreme Court last week - and the war is continuing.

The court ruled the county acted legally by forcing Jerry Sullivan, the owner of Cafe Risque, to remove a billboard advertising his nude dance club at the site of a small metal warehouse just off Interstate 95, about seven miles north of the Florida state line.

But a new advertisement promoting the nude dance club already has been erected on the billboard at the same site - and county officials have no plans to force the owner to remove the sign because the land has been re-zoned industrial, making it legal to have a sign.

That has not stopped Mr. Sullivan from filing two other lawsuits against the county.

A lawsuit challenging a political sign erected days before the November elections has been filed against the county, said Gary Edinger, a Florida attorney representing Mr. Sullivan.

Though the courts upheld the county's sign ordinance saying the sign advertising the dance club was illegal, Mr. Edinger said the law did not apply to a political sign Mr. Sullivan erected on billboard. The sign described county officials as "clowns" and "incompetent."

According to the lawsuit, Mr. Sullivan erected the sign to call attention to "unfair and selective enforcement" of the county's sign ordinance and to call attention to "unfair and illegal conduct by elected officials."

The sign was taken down after county officials threatened to fine Mr. Sullivan $1,000 a day for violating the local sign ordinance.

The second lawsuit challenges the county's adult entertainment ordinance, which Mr. Sullivan's lawyer says creates "unconstitutional prior restraint on freedom of expression."

Mr. Sullivan, according to the lawsuit, wants to open an adult entertainment establishment in Camden County similar to one he operates in Darien.

"The partially nude dancing which plaintiffs intend to offer is non-obscene, constitutionally protected communication," the lawsuit says. "Plaintiffs maintain that the nude human body is a thing of beauty which, when combined with music and rhythmic motion in the form of dance, conveys an important message of eroticism."

It's possible neither lawsuit will go to trial, however.

Todd Carter, a Brunswick attorney representing Camden County, said an offer to resolve both disputes out of court will be considered by county commissioners at their March 6 meeting.

"We're discussing ways to resolve them; that's all I can say," said Mr. Carter, who represents the county's insurance carrier.