Originally created 03/22/03

Club owner disputes ordinance



The owner of a south Augusta nightclub that started showcasing strippers nearly two months ago not only opened an adult entertainment establishment without the necessary city license, but also called police himself to let them know, sheriff's officers said in court Friday.

James Lewis - the owner of two south Augusta nightclubs and the former owner of the Speakeasy strip club on Walton Way - did not dispute that testimony before Chief Magistrate Court Judge William D. Jennings III.

Instead, Randolph Frails, the attorney representing Mr. Lewis, said his client believes that sheriff's officers have no authority to shut him down. Since Jan. 2, a federal court order has enjoined, or temporarily restrained, the city from enforcing its adult entertainment ordinance.

Chief U.S. District Court Judge Dudley H. Bowen Jr. ruled in January that Augusta's adult entertainment laws - revised in June - are invalid because proper public notice was not provided prior to their amendment. The ruling allowed Augusta Video X-Mart, an adult bookstore on Gordon Highway, to open under the temporary injunction.

Mr. Lewis has spent nearly two years trying to transfer his adult entertainment license from the Speakeasy to another location.

He is trying to open his business through a loophole created by that court order, his attorney told Augusta commissioners earlier this week. His hope is that, by opening while the ordinance is void, he will be grandfathered into compliance, Mr. Frails said.

City attorneys argued Friday that although the city's adult entertainment ordinance is unenforceable, Augusta's zoning laws have not been struck down, and Mr. Lewis is violating those zoning laws. His business is located in a B-2 zone, and the recently revised zoning ordinance limits such establishments to light or heavy industrial zones.

Judge Jennings delayed issuing a ruling on the case Friday pending the receipt of several certified government documents being submitted as evidence.

In court, Richmond County Sheriff's Sgt. Greg Smith testified that at about 11 p.m., Jan. 22, Mr. Lewis called him on his cell phone and said, "He had something he wanted me to see," indicating that he had nude dancers performing at his Damascus Road nightclub. The club has no name, but has been called Chew Choo's and Stoppers.

Sgt. Smith told the court that, when he arrived at the club that night, he looked around but didn't see any dancers. Mr. Lewis then asked a female employee of the club in her early 50s to start dancing, and told her "show us some booty," Sgt. Smith said.

Sgt. Smith said that, after the woman exposed herself, he wrote Mr. Lewis a citation for operating an adult entertainment establishment without a license.

Mr. Lewis' attorney said those facts speak for themselves.

"There is no dispute about what the lady did," Mr. Frails said. "There is dispute as to whether it's enforceable."

City attorney Harry Revell disagreed.

"No order has been entered enjoining the city from enacting that ordinance as it relates to locations," Mr. Revell said. "The place where he was cited was zoned B-2."

Reach Heidi Coryell Williams at (706) 823-3215 or heidi.williams@augustachronicle.com.