LAS VEGAS — So what’s the huff about the “Lovers at Play” street sign near Love Ranch South?
That’s what brothel owner Dennis Hof is seeking to know in his bid to gain a temporary restraining order against Nevada’s Nye County, where the sheriff there has pressured him into censoring the street sign that depicts stick figures engaging in sexual activity.
In a free speech lawsuit filed in Las Vegas federal court, Hof alleges that Nye County’s conduct is an unconstitutional prior restraint on activity.
"There is an ancient tradition of providing unofficial and official signs and signals that a potential customer is traveling in the correct direction when seeking out a brothel," according to the suit filed by industry attorney Marc Randazza of Randazza Legal Group in Las Vegas.
"For example, while most commercial speech from Ancient Pompeii is lost to the ages, the excavated streets and walls still show graffiti, in the form of penis carvings, with the bell end pointing in the direction of the brothel.
"[Hof], as heir to this time-honored tradition [has] sought to continue it, in a more creative and humorous manner. Instead of hacking penises into the rocks and public roads, [Hof has] taken a more modern approach of installing several signs near a path leading to the Love Ranch South so that potential visitors know they are heading in the right direction and to ensure that potential visitors do not get lost in residential neighborhoods looking for the Love Ranch South."
“The motivation behind the signs is to guide people, and the signs do not identify the brothel nor advertise the brothel.”
Hof, one of the more colorful personalities in the adult biz and a candidate for the Nevada Assembly, has owned the Love Ranch South (formerly the Cherry Patch) since 2010. It’s the second location of his Love Ranch-branded brothels, with the original Love Ranch located near Carson City, Nev.
He’s installed several humorous signs near a path leading to the Love Ranch South. All the signs have been located near the brothel for over five years, and they couldn’t be categorized as advertisements in Nevada because they don’t identify the brothel or advertise prostitution.
At his Moonlite Bunny Ranch, which is outside of Nye County, one sign depicts two coital bunnies.
But recently, near the Love Ranch South, Hof removed another sign called “Booze and Booty.”
That sign, inside Nye County, purportedly wasn’t taken away voluntarily. “But out of fear of retaliation based on [Nye County’s] threats about the ‘Lovers at Play’ sign, which shows that [the county has] effectively chilled [Hof’s] speech,” the complaint said.
Hof’s suit noted that Dan Schinhofen of the Nye County Board of Commissioners directed Sheriff Sharon Wehrly Nye to instruct Hof over the phone to censor the non-obscene sign under threat of scheduling a show-cause hearing against the brothel.
“[He] directed that the sign be censored because he did not like the content of the sign and exercised unfettered discretion in seeking to censor,” the suit said.
Hof, who is seeking unspecified damages in the case, asked a judge to prevent county officials from enforcing censorship of the sign. He noted that Schinhofen is a county official who has authority over whether Hof can keep his brothel license on a quarterly basis.
“[Hof’s] fear of retaliation is legitimate. The ‘Lovers at Play’ sign is not obscene, and it is not an advertisement for a brothel. At no time did Schinhofen provide Hof a procedure to appeal his sudden and arbitrary decision that the sign must be censored,” according to the suit.
In his brief seeking a TRO, Randazza said: “To chill [Hof’s] free speech activities based on the content of the speech is to place the heavy boot of censorship firmly upon the throat of the noble values underlying the First Amendment.”
Randazza told XBIZ today that Hof has every right to engage in “peaceful constitutionally protected speech” and that the “First Amendment will not abide such a loss of First Amendment rights.”
“Dennis Hof has the understanding of what it means to be a patriot,” Randazza said. “No matter the discomfort, he will charge on.”
“Guys like Hof, Hef and Flynt … it’s the reason why I got into this industry — fighting for the First Amendment,” he said.
County officials couldn’t immediately be reached for XBIZ comment by post time.