First Amendment Attorney Gives City $92,000 Option

Rhett Pardon
PICO RIVERA, Calif. — The fight to bring down a strip club in this city only minutes away from downtown Los Angeles has cost it plenty.

In its battle with Imperial Showgirls, Pico Rivera has spent nearly $400,000 in legal costs fighting the strip club, which sued in January 2002 after officials tried to shut it down.

And just this week, the city has been ordered to pay Showgirls attorney Roger Jon Diamond $92,000 in legal fees.

Now the city has a chance to save the $92,000.

Diamond told city officials that he would waive his legal costs provided they agree to allow the club to remain at its location on Slauson Avenue. He is also asking that the city drop its Sept. 24 appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In August, U.S. District Court Judge Dickran Tevrizian ruled that the strip club can operate in its current location because there are no other locations within the city in which it could effectively do business.

And on Monday, at Diamond's request to clarify the ruling, Tevrizian said that if no locations within the city's adult-business zone are available for Imperial Showgirls to move to by March 2007, the strip club can apply for an extension of the August preliminary injunction.

The owners of the club challenged a Pico Rivera ordinance that barred adult entertainment business outside the city's commercial manufacturing zone and within 1,000 feet of any residential property, church, school or park.

Imperial Showgirls opened in January 2002, but city officials ordered it closed within days of the opening. The strip club then sued the city, claiming the ordinance violated their free-speech rights and gave them no options for relocating their business.

Diamond, who represented Imperial Showgirls, said that the reason the strip club won was because no other property in the city qualified. “Every property was within 1,000 feet of homes,” Diamond said.

Imperial Showgirls currently is housed in a mini-mall near a McDonald's restaurant, a doughnut shop and beauty salon and has a lease that extends through 2007.

During a trial in July, city officials sought to show that there were several viable locations for Imperial Showgirls to move to within the city's “commercial manufacturing” zone, about two blocks from the club's present location in a “commercial general” zone. But city officials later conceded that there are currently no vacant properties within that zone.

Tevrizian said that of 20 potential sites identified by the parties in the commercial manufacturing zone, “there are no existing structures that can accommodate plaintiffs’ use as an adult cabaret theater.”

“At a minimum, there must be more sites available than existing businesses with a demand for them,” Tevrizian said in his ruling. The lack of “any site” that will accommodate the plaintiff under the current city ordinance, the judge noted, “is unreasonable and therefore unconstitutional” and would have violated the 1st and 14th Amendments.

The federal judge noted that Pico Rivera is less than eight square miles in area and only has seven acres of land zoned for commercial manufacturing. The ordinance also prohibits locating an adult business within 1,000 feet of a church, school, or public park, even if it is in the commercial manufacturing zone.

It was the second legal victory won by Imperial Showgirls in its bid to continue operating over the objection of some local residents and officials. A state appeal court decided last year that a local pastor and members of his church did not have a constitutional right to continue picketing in front of the business. Those protests turned violent.

Tevrizian’s August ruling allows Imperial Showgirls to operate at the current location until March 31, 2007, when its lease will expire. The ruling does not permit similar businesses to set up in the area.

With the offer on the table over Diamond’s legal fees, the city is weighing what to do. City Attorney Jamie Casso said he wants to see Diamond's offer in writing before he would present it to the City Council.

Casso said that Pico Rivera will have to shell out another $25,000 to $30,000 if it pursues its appeal to the 9th Circuit.

As for Diamond, a First Amendment attorney who often represents the adult industry, he said the offer is a “win-win” situation.

“[It’s] in the city's interest to keep the current club in the zone where it's at and ban adult clubs from any place else,” Diamond said.