Monday, July 24, 2006
Sohigian to Rule on Challenge To Bathhouse Ordinance
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ronald Sohigian Friday took under submission a demurrer to a suit by bathhouse owners challenging the constitutionality of a Los Angeles city and county ordinances regulating their businesses.
The ordinances require every “commercial sex venue” to obtain an operating permit, and give broad authority to the county health officer to enact and periodically revise regulations, violation of which may result in revocation of a permit. Los Angeles, like most cities in the county, lacks its own health department and delegates authority for the enforcement of its health ordinances to the county.
The plaintiffs in the suit claim the county is unfairly targeting them, trying to label them as commercial sex venues when they are not. They also argue that if the ordinance is interpreted as applying to them, it violates their rights to due process and equal protection.
They also claim that their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association are being trampled upon, as the county seeks to inhibit their ability to offer “a venue for the exercise of constitutional rights of Freedom of Association, Freedom of Speech through social and political discourse and the Pursuit of Happiness, predominantly accessed by members of the gay community wishing to afford themselves of a safe, secure, clean, sensitive and supporting environment for such.”
But Principal Deputy County Counsel Dianne Reagan argued Friday that the plaintiffs lack standing to challenge the laws, since they have not applied for permits, and that the ordinance is valid, both on its face and as applied to bathhouses. The laws not only have a rational basis, but would survive even is strict scrutiny is applied, she argued, because the government has a compelling interest in stopping the spread of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Joshua Kaplan, representing the plaintiffs, responded that his clients have standing, both as persons affected by the ordinance and as taxpayers. He also argued that the ordinance is discriminatory because it exempts hotels and motels, even though “it is a matter of common knowledge” that “people can rent rooms by the hour” and engage in high-risk sexual activity there as well as at his clients’ establishments.
Kaplan also argued that the ordinance grants excessive discretion to the county health officer, since even if a permit holder complies with all regulations, the health officer can change the regulations and seek to lift a permit for non-compliance with the new rules.
Reagan responded that such flexibility is necessary because the level of medical knowledge about how to deal with infectious diseases rises over time.
Sohigian gave no indication when he might rule.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company