Honolulu adult video store fights to keep signs

Wednesday, September 30, 1998

A federal judge in Honolulu is scheduled to hear arguments today in a lawsuit filed by the owner of an adult video store against local officials and the city for revocation of a sign permit.

Chamblee Visuals, LLC, which does business under the name Inserection, sued city officials last week contending their First Amendment free-speech and 14th Amendment due-process and equal-protection rights were violated.

The store is seeking a temporary restraining order to prevent the city from taking any action against the store or its permit.

In June, Inserection applied for and received a sign permit. When the store opened in August, it put up three signs which read “Inserection — Adult Fantasy Store.” The signs contained only text, no photographs or drawings of any kind.

However, on Sept. 8, Jan Naoe Sullivan, director of the Department of Planning and Permitting for the city and county of Honolulu, sent a letter to Inserection saying the permit had been revoked for fear that the sign violated a law concerning pornography for minors.

Sullivan wrote: “Recent community outcry on the sign installation demonstrates that this sign is offensive to the majority of the community since its presentation would appeal to a minor's prurient interest which would violate the statute regarding pornography for minors.”

The community outcry Sullivan mentioned in her letter referred at least in part to two news conferences held at Inserection business by City Councilman Andy Mirikitani in late August and early September. In addition, after the signs were displayed, Mirikitani proposed amendments to the city ordinance that would restrict on-site signs for adult businesses.

Inserection sued Sullivan, Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris and the city and county of Honolulu in federal court.

Attorneys for Inserection wrote in a memorandum in support of their motion for temporary relief that “the reason given for the revocation is factually and legally groundless, pretextual, illicit and not in good faith, discriminatory and inequitable and arbitrary.”

According to the store's attorneys, the words on the signs “do not come even arguably close to meeting the statutory definition of 'pornographic for minors.'”

Hawaii law defines “pornographic for minors” as material which “is primarily devoted to explicit and detailed narrative accounts of sexual excitement, sexual conduct or sadomasochistic sexual abuse.”

The store's complaint said that the three signs, containing only the words “Inserection — Adult Fantasy Store” don't “come within light years” of this definition.

“The Defendants have chosen to launch their new careers as sign police against signs from a single business establishment on an ad hoc basis, without definite or fixed standards, and apparently only in response to political pressure,” wrote the store's attorneys.

Legal papers filed by the store in Chamblee Visuals, LLC v. Sullivan also said that the sign permit law constitutes an unconstitutional prior restraint on speech because it fails to provide for prompt judicial review.

Store attorneys relied heavily in their memorandum of law on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' recent decision in Baby Tam & Co. v. City of Las Vegas. In that case, the 9th Circuit struck down a city licensing ordinance because it failed to provide time limits for a prompt judicial hearing and decision.

Evan Shirley, lead attorney for Inserection, said that the “government officials' reasons for revoking the sign permit are specious. The signs in no way violate the pornography for minors law. Rather, the sign permit was revoked due to a climate of political pressure and candidates running for office.”

Sullivan and the mayor's office referred calls to David Arakawa, attorney for the city. A call to Arakawa was not returned.