Adult bookstore law upheld by U.S. judge But time limits are unconstitutional HARFORD COUNTY

August 28, 1993|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,Staff Writer

A federal judge in Baltimore has upheld the constitutionality of a Harford County adult bookstore licensing law that seeks to place restraints on dealers of pornographic magazines and movies.

In an opinion released yesterday in U.S. District Court, Chief Judge Walter E. Black Jr. said all aspects of the county's adult bookstore licensing law are constitutional except one that deals with specific time limitations during the application process.

"We're very pleased with Judge Black's decision," said Assistant County Attorney Diane Swint, who, with co-counsel Stephen Luchte, defended the county law against Chesapeake B&M Inc. Nov. 20. Chesapeake B&M is the corporate name of the Highway Craft, Gift and Book Store in Aberdeen. Ms. Swint said that, as a result of Judge Black's decision, she will ask Harford Circuit Judge William O. Carr to lift an injunction that has prevented the county from enforcing the licensing law. Judge Carr ruled in August 1992 that the county should not enforce the law until its constitutionality had been tested.

Judge Black ruled that the law's lone glitch is the specific time constraints set by the county.

The law, enacted in May 1992, sets new standards for adult HTC bookstore operations and aims at placing tighter controls on them. It requires each owner of an existing adult bookstore to obtain a $200 license to operate. Licenses for new adult bookstores would require such restrictions as a 1,000-foot setback from any business, school or church, and a ban on ownership by, or employment of, convicted criminals.

Under the time constraints, the law gives the county seven days after receiving an application for an adult bookstore to request an inspection by the Health Department or any other agency that has an interest in the application. Those agencies would have 30 days to answer, and the county would have seven more days to approve or reject the license.

Judge Black said the current law does not provide any recourse to the applicant if those agencies do not do their jobs on time.

Swint said she expects the County Council, which enacted the bill proposed by Councilman Philip J. Barker, a District F Democrat, to take action to make the application process constitutional.

Judge Black also ruled that Chesapeake B&M may ask the court for relief any time the adult bookstore operators feel the law is being improperly enforced.

Howard J. Schulman, a Baltimore attorney for Chesapeake B&M, is on vacation and could not be reached for comment yesterday, an office spokeswoman said.

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