Knox County Judge Upholds Adult Business Ordinance

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — U.S. District Judge Thomas W. Phillips has struck down a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a Knox County adult business ordinance. Local businesses plan to appeal the decision.

The ordinance was passed in March 2005, and requires "anyone with an influential interest in an adult business to sign the application for the license." In addition, it defines "semi-nudity" and says that an adult business can lose its license for knowingly hiring someone who has committed one of a list of crimes within the previous five years that includes rape, aggravated sexual assault, public indecency, sexual exploitation of a minor and indecent exposure.

Also on the list were dealing in controlled substances and racketeering, but Judge Phillips said in his opinion that those should be redacted from the ordinance because they "are not related to the regulated activity."

Brought in May 2005 by the owners of Richland Bookmart Inc., the Knoxville Adult Superstore and strip club Raymond's Place, the complaint said that the Knox County Commission was attempting to strengthen adult business regulations out of concern prompted by the recent opening of a new adult bookstore in the county.

County law director John Owings said at Monday's County Commission meeting, "We have a very effective, very valid ordinance. Starting tomorrow morning, we will be enforcing the ordinance."

But Joseph Levitt, attorney for the plaintiffs, is filing the case with the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, claiming the ordinance is based on fabricated statistics about the so-called "adverse effects" of adult businesses, such as increased prostitution and drug use.

"The want to put the businesses out of business," Levitt told local news station WATE-6. "Here in Knox County, it's absolutely clear that there's far less crime of any kind around or emanating from adult establishments than there are shopping malls."

Responded Owings, "There are secondary adverse effects that are well known and documented. The plaintiffs have a right to appeal, but we're going to defend the ordinance and preserve the judge's ruling that is absolutely correct both factually and legally."

Owners of the businesses have 90 days to bring their operations into compliance with the ordinance. County Code Enforcement Inspectors will be visiting new and existing businesses classified as sexually oriented under the law.