PRESERVING ART FOR BEER DRINKERS
When a performer flashed his bare butt last year during the play “Love! Valour! Compassion!” at the Civic Theatre, no police in black masks appeared to wrestle him to the stage floor and arrest him for violating Orange county’s nudity ordinance.
Yet Steve Drake and dancers he hired to perform partially clad at a South Orange Blossom Trail business have been the target of several raids by masked officers of the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation (MBI) and face dozens of criminal charges based on the same law.
Charging county authorities with “content and viewpoint discrimination,” Drake’s attorney filed a motion on Nov. 13 calling for an Orange County judge to declare the ordinance unconstitutional.
“You cannot choose who can go nude,” says attorney Steven Mason. “It’s government favoritism in its most blatant form.”
The county ordinance was passed in 1992 by the Orange County Commission — after complaints by MBI about the going-on along South Orange Blossom Trail, including the businesses now run by Drake and targeted in recent MBI raids. The ordinance also reflected the heightened awareness about obscenity sparked by the Greater Orlando Coalition Against Pornography. An offshoot of a movement originating in Kansas City, the Orlando group spent more than $100,000 (raised from local contributors) on anti-pornography advertising and lobbied officials aggressively to crack down on adult entertainment.
Then as now, the MBI complied, raiding adult businesses on the South Orange Blossom Trail strip. But for almost two years, clubs operating from the complex where Drake now is doing business were allowed to continue to feature nude dancing, based on a temporary injunction issued by an Orange County circuit judge. The injunction was lifted in 1994.
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In the meantime, lawyers have fought over nudity laws in courts across the state, with those, like Orlando’s patterned after the St. Johns county law withstanding constitutional arguments. Now Mason is mounting a new challenge, based largely on a judge’s ruling in Schenectady, N.Y., which chastised the city for punishing adult clubs “because the audience is mostly men who prefer to drink Budweiser while they view the naked form engaged in dance, rather than couples at the opera who prefer Dom Perignon with the falsetto.”
Opposing Mason will be Joe Cocchiarella, the assistant state attorney who was in charge of MBI during the anti-pornography campaign and convinced the judge to end the injunction in 1994.
“This is the latest trendy argument,” Cocchiarella says. “There’s always a brand new case, a brand new law and a judge that goes against the grain.” Mason’s suit is based on exceptions for theater and other activities, but Cocchiarella says, “a more reasonable law is more likely to be upheld.” Clearly, Mason and Marsalisi law Cocchiarella disagree about what’s reasonable.