Judge: Lap Dancing Protected by Oregon Constitution

Q Boyer
SALEM, Ore. — Lap dances performed in Salem are protected under free speech provisions of Oregon’s state constitution, according to a ruling recently issued by a Marion County judge.

The ruling issued by Judge Albin Norblad came in a case that stemmed from a lap dance performed by exotic dancer Laurel Guillen for an undercover police officer in April 2005 at Cheetah’s, a club in northeast Salem.

According to court documents, the officer paid Guillen for making contact with “her pelvis to his pelvis area and thigh for the purpose of arousing sexual excitement.”

Guillen was found guilty of “prohibited touching” by a Salem municipal court in November 2006, fined $250 and sentenced to a one-year probation period. Guillen then appealed her conviction, where Norblad heard the case.

Norblad’s ruling relied on an Oregon Supreme Court case in which the state’s highest court deemed it legal under its free speech laws for a dancer to press and rub her breasts against a male customer’s chest and to perform a live sex show with another dancer.

Guillen’s attorney, Kevin Lafky, told the Salem-based Statesman Journal that the city’s ordinance is worded too broadly to survive scrutiny under the Oregon constitution.

“Laws can [be] applied arbitrarily,” Lafky said. “A whole host of very normal conduct, such as theater performance, movie making, photography — things of that nature — would be illegal under this ordinance as well.”

Activists in the Salem area trying to curtail exotic dancing in the city denounced the ruling as going too far with free speech protections.

“You see what they’ve done, they’ve taken free speech and they’ve stretched it to cover everything,” said Julia Allison, a resident of South Salem and member of a group called Oregonians Protecting Neighborhoods (OPN).

According to the Statesman Journal, the OPN hopes to place a measure on an upcoming ballot that would amend the state’s constitution to pave the way for tighter restrictions to be imposed on the state’s strip clubs.

“I’m a moralist, I guess,” Allison said. “[Lap dancing is] disgusting. It’s another form of prostitution to me. You can’t tell me that they sit on their laps and that’s it.”

Salem City Attorney Randall Tosh said last week that the city has not yet determined how to proceed with the case against Guillen, or if the city will amend its ordinances due to the decision.

“We’re going to be doing a review of the ordinance in light of the case, and make some sort of determination to see if we can appeal it,” Tosh said. “We’re considering our options.”