Exotic dancer challenges ‘personal advertising’ conviction

Tuesday, August 25, 1998

An Orange County, Fla., exotic dancer is challenging her conviction under a county ordinance that prohibits any worker of an adult entertainment establishment from engaging in 'personal advertising.'

The problem, according to former Live Shows dancer Suzanne Wilkins, is that 'personal advertising' includes merely standing outside an establishment for any reason at all.

Last year, Wilkins was charged with two violations of a county ordinance for standing outside Live Shows — once in a red, white and blue bikini and once in a long green dress. She was convicted by a jury under the 'personal advertising' ordinance for the occasion when she wore the bikini. Wilkins was not convicted for the incident in which she wore the green dress.

In her appeal, which was filed in May, she claims that the ordinance violates First Amendment free-expression rights and is used as a “tool to arrest those persons the government deems undesirable.”

The law prohibits adult entertainment establishment workers from standing outside the business and engaging in “personal advertising, pandering, or soliciting, whether passive or otherwise, on behalf of the worker, or the adult entertainment establishment.”

The law defines “personal advertising” as “encouraging or enticing, by whatever direct or indirect means, potential customers beyond the adult entertainment establishment.”

Her initial brief filed before the appeals court states: “The government cannot abridge these freedoms by claiming that Ms. Wilkins loses her rights simply because she works at an adult entertainment establishment. It is impossible within the dictates of constitutional jurisprudence to criminalize Ms. Wilkins' conduct of standing outside — whether she is wearing a bikini or a long green dress. As of today's date, a woman cannot be imprisoned for dressing in the clothes of her choice.”

Steven Mason, Wilcox's attorney, said: “This is a blatantly unconstitutional ordinance. It is a classic loitering ordinance disguised under the label 'personal advertising.' This provision has no boundaries and no guidelines. It criminalizes perfectly harmless and innocent behavior.”

The law, according to Mason, prohibits an adult entertainment worker from waving to a friend on the street or sitting in a chair outside while on break, from passing out Bibles or from reading a book in the parking lot.

However, Joseph Cocchiarella, legal adviser for the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation which operates in central Florida, says these examples are “outlandish hypotheticals.”

Cocchiarella, who is defending the law during the appeals process, said: “This law has only been applied to strippers who stand outside and wave to passing traffic. These adult business operators use these women as bait to attract customers.

“Nobody is trying to imprison women for innocent conduct,” he said. “It is important to realize that both a judge and jury rejected these constitutional arguments,” Cocchiarella said.

Mason responded: “Their own enforcement agent testified that under this ordinance workers at adult entertainment establishments cannot come outside the business for any reason other than a fire.”

Cocchiarella insists that the law is constitutional. “The U.S. Supreme Court has said that public nudity laws are constitutional. Local governments can regulate adult entertainment establishments using reasonable time, place and manner restrictions to control negative secondary effects associated with these businesses,” he said.

“The Orange County ordinance strikes a reasonable balance. It allows the strip shows but says that they must stay indoors,” he said. “These businesses cannot put strippers out on the street in lingerie.”

Neither Mason nor Cocchiarella offered any prediction when the appeals court would decide Wilkins v. State.