Monday, February 4, 2002
S.C. Won’t Review Pimping Case; Prosecutors Urge Lawmakers to Act
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Prosecutors will seek legislation to strengthen the state’s anti-prostitution law after the state Supreme Court declined last week to review a Court of Appeal ruling that it is not illegal to pay for the privilege of watching sex acts between other people, the lead prosecutor in the case said Friday.
“It’s an oversight that we are going to try to correct,” San Bernardino Deputy District Attorney Victoria Cameron told the MetNews. District Attorney Dennis Stout and San Bernardino City Attorney James Penman have already begun drafting a legislative proposal, she said.
The justices, at last Tuesday’s conference, voted 4-3 to deny the district attorney’s petition for review in Wooten v. Superior Court, 93 C.A. 4th 422. Justices Marvin Baxter, Kathryn M. Werdegar, and Janice Rogers Brown cast the votes to review.
The evidence showed that defendants worked as managers at a strip club that offered semiprivate rooms in which, for a fee, a customer could watch two naked women perform sexual acts on each other, and evidence from undercover police officers that they had paid to observe this conduct
In its Oct. 30 opinion, a divided panel in Div. Two ordered dismissal of charges against Brent Howard Wooten and Daniel Robert Mendoza, managers of the Flesh Club. Justice James D. Ward, writing for Div. Two, said the club was a “standard ‘strip joint,’ ” except that for $240, a patron can go to a separate room and watch two women perform sex acts on each other.
Wooten and Mendoza were charged with pimping and pandering, both felonies carrying mandatory prison terms. Pimping is defined as deriving money from the earnings of prostitution, while pandering refers to hiring a prostitute or forcing a person into prostitution.
Ward, with Justice Barton Gaut concurred and Justice Betty Richli dissenting, said the activities in the Flesh Club’s special room aren’t “prostitution” as the term is defined in Penal Code Sec. 647.
Prostitution, Ward noted, requires a “lewd act” between prostitute and customer. Past California cases do not indicate that the type of voyeurism practiced at the Flesh Club is considered a lewd act, Ward said.
The justice also cited the rule of lenity requiring that ambiguous statutes be given whatever reasonable interpretation is most favorable to the defendant.
The defendants’ attorney, Roger Jon Diamond, was gleeful about the high court’s decision not to hear the case.
“It’s a victory for justice, for the taxpayers of San Bernardino, and for everyone who is afraid of overzealous police activity,” Diamond said. The police he said, should leave his clients alone and spend their time “tracking down terrorists.”
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company