Tuesday, May 25, 2010 | 2 a.m.
Related Document (.pdf)
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When swinger David Cooper moved from Roman Catholic-dominated El Paso, Texas, to Las Vegas, he figured he was going to the most open place in the U.S. for sexually oriented businesses.
Las Vegas, after all, advertises itself as the mecca for naughty adults.
But after a few years, his new hometown turned out to be, in his opinion, a den of hypocrisy.
Now he’s suing Clark County, current and former commissioners and top county officials in federal court over the county’s refusal to approve a business license for the group sex club he wanted to open in Commercial Center, 953 E. Sahara Ave. He argues that the denial made no sense given that he would have been practically next door to another swingers club.
The lawsuit, filed Friday by Cooper’s attorney, Lisa Rasmussen, alleges that the county violated his constitutional rights under the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause because similar clubs have been allowed to operate at Commercial Center.
“I find it unconscionable that the county can keep a straight face by telling me sex clubs are illegal when you have neighbors to my right and left in the same business,” Cooper says.
The suit also alleges that the county code is unconstitutionally vague and broad when it comes to the definition of prohibited sexual activity that it uses to deny business licenses. That has been a long-standing complaint, but it has been kept away from any definitive ruling by a judge.
Allen Lichtenstein, counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada and a former attorney for Cooper, said he, too, thinks the code is too vague and too broad. “There is room for greater specificity,” he said.
The county was named as a defendant in a separate federal lawsuit, filed in April by Las Vegas adult club figure Michael Powers, which challenges the constitutionality of the ordinance that regulates sex clubs and defines them as “public nuisances.” Powers says he owns the Power Exchange at 3610 S. Highland Drive and has been cited by the county for operating a sex club in violation of code.
County spokesman Dan Kulin said the county had no comment on either lawsuit because the litigation is pending.
In Cooper’s case, he had hoped to operate the club Sextasy in a suite that was previously occupied by Green Door I as a swingers club. Cooper said he spent $100,000 on improvements, including an interior redesign and installation of fixtures. He applied for business licenses that he said are similar to those that have been granted to other swingers clubs. That is, they were licenses other than those that say “sex clubs,” because the county does not have licenses for such activity and maintains that they are illegal.
So, Cooper, 41, sought licenses for a restaurant, gift/novelty shop, book and video sales and the right to charge admission.
But the county denied licenses in June 2008. He appealed, and nearly three months later, county commissioners upheld the denial.
Rasmussen had argued before the commission that her client’s rights were violated under the 14th Amendment because similar clubs were allowed to operate at Commercial Center. But Deputy District Attorney Rob Warhola responded that the county did not have to go after those clubs all at once.
County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said at the time that other reputed swingers clubs have been able to keep their business licenses because the county has yet to catch them “in the act.”
Rasmussen pressed ahead with the lawsuit, arguing that Cooper’s due process was violated in part because the county took more than the required 45 days after he applied for his licenses to reject them. Had the county rejected the licenses within the 45-day period, Cooper’s business would not have spent a “substantial amount of money” on improvements, the lawsuit states. Consequently, the lawsuit seeks more than $75,000 in damages.
It also accuses the county of discriminatory enforcement of its codes.
“The defendants, and each of them, have never taken any action to revoke or rescind the licenses of any of the other swingers clubs in Clark County, despite being on notice of their existence,” the lawsuit states.
Current or former sex clubs named in the lawsuit include the Green Door II, Fantasy Social Club and Entourage Gym.