Originally created 10/12/02

Video X-Mart awaits court's ruling



U.S. District Judge Dudley H. Bowen Jr. has 30 days to decide whether Augusta's ordinance banning Video X-Mart from opening on Gordon Highway is illegal.

An adult bookstore on Gordon Highway is "ready to go" if a federal judge throws out Augusta's newly enacted adult entertainment ordinance, the store's general manager said Friday.

Jimmy Cassandro sat in the back of a federal courtroom Friday morning as his attorneys tried to persuade U.S. District Judge Dudley H. Bowen Jr. to toss out the new ordinance that is preventing Mr. Cassandro from opening Augusta Video X-Mart. The judge has 30 days to rule on the matter.

Bookstore attorneys Tom Maddox and Gary Edinger argued that Augusta commissioners approved the new ordinance illegally. Both attorneys suggested in court Friday that commissioners were playing games with the adult video store by changing the rules after Mr. Cassandro tried to open the store in July.

"This case should last about three minutes," Mr. Maddox told the judge. "The city is trying to disguise this (ordinance) by moving the decision-making process from zoning and planning to the licensing division."

But Harry Revell, a city attorney, argued that the new ordinance is a licensing change, not a zoning change, and therefore did not require public hearings.

The judge wasn't satisfied.

"What do you say to counter the argument that every time the applicant looks for a place to light, y'all move the furniture?" Judge Bowen asked Mr. Revell.

"I don't think the plaintiff has ever put himself in a position where he has an absolute right to open," Mr. Revell said. "It's the city's right to regulate these businesses. They have to meet the requirements."

Mr. Revell said bookstore officials never applied for an adult entertainment permit, which several topless clubs have obtained to operate in downtown Augusta.

"The plaintiff, to this day, has never completed an application for an adult entertainment permit," he said.

Outside court, Mr. Maddox said his client is in a Catch-22 and cannot complete the application without finishing the other procedures first.

Judge Bowen did not give a timetable on when he would make a decision. Mr. Maddox said he hopes a decision will be reached in two weeks.

"I think Judge Bowen understands we're losing money," Mr. Maddox said.

Mr. Cassandro said the store is prepared for business once a decision is made. "I'm ready to go," he said.

Friday's court action came after Augusta Video X-Mart filed an emergency motion for additional injunctive relief in response to the city's new ordinance.

The city's new ordinance, approved by commissioners this summer, allows adult entertainment establishments to locate in light or heavy industrial areas, with the exception of those spots deemed to be "gateway corridors." The bookstore's location at Molly Pond Road is on an identified gateway corridor, near the highly traveled intersection of Gordon Highway and Doug Barnard Parkway.

X-Mart attorneys say that proper public notice was never given to change the city ordinance.

The bookstore's supplemental motion asks the judge to allow Video X-Mart to open immediately, in part, because the city's new ordinance was approved without being advertised or having public hearings, and without review of its effect on free speech.

In July, the bookstore's general manager was arrested for disorderly conduct and operating without a business license. He said that he opened the store's doors in an act of civil disobedience and that the city's new ordinance was a violation of his First Amendment right to free speech.

Those criminal charges are expected to be tried after Judge Bowen makes his decision on the civil matter.

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (706) 828-3851 or greg.rickabaugh@augustachronicle.com.