At a series of packed hearings earlier this month, county commissioners invited area residents to testify that the shop would be detrimental to the community. The hearings were the first step in a process that County Attorney Michael Mullin said he hopes leads to restrictions that will prevent adult businesses from setting up shop within county lines.
Mullin said the testimony, in which residents cited “studies” showing a rise in crime rates in communities with adult shops, will be used to form a basis for new county ordinances placing narrow restrictions on the sale of adult-oriented material — essentially making it impossible for adult businesses to operate in the area.
But Orlando attorney Lawrence G. Walters, representing the North Carolina-based retail chain, told county commissioners at the hearing that any law aimed at preventing Adam & Eve from doing business will be struck down in court — and cost the county a fortune in legal fees.
“I’m not here to convince you of anything, because my client’s right to start a business has already been established, “ Walter told the audience. He then warned that, by attempting to interfere with that right, Nassau County would “wind up in litigation and paying a large attorney’s fee.”
Walters pointed to his track record of having defended adult business in a dozen similar cases in which municipalities have had to pay millions of dollars to his firm in legal fees.
County commissioners were unfazed.
“I am not going to let this man threaten us,” Commissioner Jim B. Higginbotham said. He then told the audience to “Go home, spread the word, get on your knees and pray.”
At one hearing, local attorney Gary Baker offered to help the county craft a law so tight that it would withstand any challenge in court. “I think it’s time to draw a line in the sand,” said Baker. “I pledge the services of my law firm, free of charge.”
Many of the residents became teary eyed during their testimony, claiming the store would lead children into porn addiction and turn men into sex offenders. One pastor said the store has “a very destructive smell of death” surrounding it. Another made comparisons to the Biblical city of Sodom and Gomorrah.
When Walters tried to rebut the testimony, Mullin told him, “Your three minutes have expired.”
Nassau County Republican Chair Ed Grandy issued a warning to the company developing the shopping center where Adam & Eve plans to locate that it should “take that store and run it out of here. If you don’t run it out, we’ll run it out.”
Baker issued a similar threat, saying he would organize protestors to gather in front of the store “from the time it opens until the time it closes.” He added that he planned to have someone photograph every person entering the store and post the photos on a website and in the local newspaper.
“Adam & Eve’s lawyers have grossly misjudged the determination of the people of this community” to keep the shop from opening, Baker said.
But Walters said Baker and others opposing the store don’t speak for the majority of Nassau County citizens, noting that Adam & Eve’s website has received 2,000 recent orders from addresses in the county.
“That is why my client intends to [locate] here, to satisfy a market need,” he said. “The people of this county are just as interested in romance and sex as just about any other where we’ve represented.”