The road to closing a controversial strip-tease club in Rockdale may be longer than expected and might include a visit to the U.S. Supreme Court.
That's because an attorney for the Body Talk club has filed a motion declaring that nude dancing is a form of protected free speech, guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and the Maryland Declaration of Rights.
"Ultimately, it could be a federal case," said Harold I. Glaser, an attorney with extensive federal courtroom experience, now representing Dominic Stenti, owner of Body Talk.
Timothy Kotroco, an assistant county attorney, said he and his colleague, Nancy West, had not yet seen Glaser's motion, but that they would vigorously oppose it.
The free-speech motion, the latest in a series Glaser filed as part of Stenti's appeal of District Court convictions for various building-code and zoning violations, asks that the cases be dismissed.
"Nude dancing is a constitutionally protected form of expression," Glaser wrote in his motion, "guaranteed under the 1st and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution and Article 40 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights."
In an earlier motion, Glaser argued for dismissal, claiming that the county had prosecuted Stenti three times for the same alleged violations, thus putting Stenti under double jeopardy.
Two weeks ago, a hearing on Stenti's appeal was postponed, and Judge Leonard S. Jacobson gave Glaser until last Thursday to file any new motions. He filed the free-speech motion Thursday.
Kotroco and West have until Monday to respond to Glaser's motions. A hearing on the matter is scheduled April 25.
Meanwhile, a General Assembly bill aimed at hampering operations like Body Talk has been passed by the House and Senate and now is being reviewed by the attorney general's office.
The bill would prohibit people from bringing alcoholic beverages into an establishment that features nude dancing, or any nudity, said Del. Richard Rynd, D-Balto. Co., the bill's sponsor.
Body Talk has no county liquor license and thus has avoided Liquor Board rules that bar nudity. Patrons bring their own liquor.
"This closes a loophole" in the liquor laws, said Rynd, who represents the area surrounding the striptease club.
Rynd said he received more than 150 letters from residents complaining about public urination, drunken behavior and a general feeling that a strip joint doesn't belong in the Liberty Road commercial district, so close to people's homes.
"If this bill doesn't do anything else," said Rynd, "at least it will stop people from coming out of there drunk."
Under the law, Rynd said, Stenti would have to make sure none of his customers brought any beer, wine or liquor into the club, or face a possible penalty of $1,000 a day.
The effort to close Body Talk, Glaser wrote, is a "massive effort" and "an unprecedented attack" that can only be explained as the county responding to pressure from community groups "which do not agree with the message being expressed through nude dancing at the pool room establishment Body Talk."