Massage parlors drop challenge Businesses agree to send staff for training

'They forfeited the game'

Law is aimed at cracking down on prostitution

July 15, 1998|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

Two Howard County spas have dropped their legal challenge to a county crackdown on massage parlors, finding it easier to comply than face a court battle, according to county attorneys.

Rainbow Spa Inc. in Jessup and Lily Spa Inc. in Laurel have agreed to comply with the law by sending staff members to training at Hema School of Technology, an approved massage school in New Jersey, the attorneys said yesterday.

"It is like they forfeited the game. They threw in the white flag and said, 'We don't want to see you,' " said F. Todd Taylor, a senior assistant Howard County solicitor. "They found it easier to comply with the law than to try and fight it."

The spas had charged in a federal lawsuit that the 1997 law deprived them of the right to practice business and violated their protection from illegal government searches.

The suit, filed last month, was the first legal challenge to the law designed to halt illegal sex activity in the 13 parlors in the county.

Two weeks after filing the suit, the spas were granted a motion that dismissed the suit, while allowing them to file again.

At the heart of the suit was a Howard County law that makes it illegal to massage a member of the opposite sex unless the masseur or masseuse has received at least 500 hours of training from an approved school and national certification. Medical professionals such as chiropractors are exempt from the law.

The owners of the two spas had argued that they employ Korean women for whom English is a second language and could not find certified schools that taught in Korean or a national exam offered in Korean.

Charles Saphos, the attorney for the spas, and Sam Sun Shin, owner of Rainbow Spa Inc., declined to comment on the case.

Taylor said the employee training for the spas should take four to six months.

Several jurisdictions have laws regulating massage parlors because of the perceived link between the parlors and prostitution. Howard County police carried out a widespread -- and ultimately humiliating -- sting operation in 1995 that turned up evidence of illegal acts but fell apart in court amid charges that the police had engaged in unnecessary sex acts.

The spas' suit also alleged that the law's provision for warrantless searches of massage parlors is unconstitutional.

The law allows representatives from several county agencies, including the police, to inspect the parlors at any time. No doors to massage rooms may be locked. Officials may enter a room after knocking once and identifying themselves.

The suit named Howard County, County Executive Charles I. Ecker, the five County Council members and Howard police Chief G. Wayne Livesay as defendants.

County attorneys say they are confident that although the case did not establish a legal precedent -- because the judge made no formal ruling -- the law can withstand a challenge.

"We feel the case was dismissed mostly based on a legal motion that they didn't have a case," said Katherine L. Taylor, a senior assistant county solicitor.

Pub Date: 7/15/98

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