Industry Attorneys Hone In on Adult Retail Dangers

LOS ANGELES — A panel of adult industry attorneys discussed the common pitfalls and danger zones retailers should be aware of on the final day of XBIZ Retail Expo at the Sofitel Hotel in Los Angeles.

The legal seminar — the final one of XBIZ Retail — was moderated by attorney Jeffrey Douglas, who introduced attorneys John Weston, Louis Sirkin and Allan Gelbard.

"The panel in front of you are the extraordinary people who have fundamentally changed the quality of your environment you live and work in," Douglas told the crowd, consisting of some of the top execs of the leading adult retail companies.

Douglas noted that times have changed with the adult retail landscape because operators have been well-represented by a cadre of adult entertainment attorneys.

"There was a time when a majority of people here would have raised their hands if I asked them whether they've ever gone to jail for practicing their 1st Amendment rights," he said.

Weston, Sirkin and Gelbard all advocated that operators should be represented by legal counsel due to the ever-changing attitudes of community standards and officials who could bring an adult business down on the dime.

"You can live in an environment for 20 years where everything is fine — and whether you did something wrong or someone else — all of a sudden your business gets threatened," Weston said. "Your business can be wiped out in the blink of an eye."

With that in mind, Weston told the crowd, "Don't let anybody take an easy shot at you."

"You have to remember, it's hard out there for people in the adult entertainment industry. You have no friends, and when the going gets tough no one is going to stand beside you. Soon after the bullets start flying politicians, civil leaders and others never heard of you.

He noted that there are many tenets to a successful adult retail operator, but building bridges with the community and civic leaders is key.

"It is harder for someone in your community to get you shut down if you've had lunch with them at the Kiwanis club," Weston said.

"Be a good neighbor and corporate citizen, give to local charities and demand your rights as a citizen," Weston said. "Be involved and let people know who you are."

Gelbard said by paying close attention to the nuts and bolts of your business and by simple things like having an employee manual will keep retail operators out of trouble.

"If later down the line an employee wants to make a claim saying they are sexually harassed in a sex shop, you really have a problem," Gelbard said. "The easiest way to stay out of trouble is to have an employee manual."

Meanwhile, Sirkin said things could be changing when it comes to obscenity prosecutions, another danger adult retailers should be aware of.

"With the rumors of the Justice Department's anti-obscenity unit being disbanded, it's likely there will be a shift to the local level for obscenity prosecutions," he said.

But Sirkin said that retailers should always fight for their 1st Amendment rights. "Be a supporter of free speech and have some guts" if and when an adult retailer gets hauled in court over a prosecution, he said.