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Fulton fights to oust nude-dancing -- again

Like many folks, the Fulton County Commission continues to be tormented by past indiscretions involving strip clubs.

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Within the next few weeks, the county expects to find out the trial date for a Georgia Supreme Court case that will determine whether Fulton's current adult-entertainment policy will be thrown out. The ordinance in question prohibits alcohol from being served in places that offer nude dancing. More than three years after being approved by commissioners, it's a measure that has never been enforced.

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The case challenging the ordinance was brought by Maxim Cabaret, a 2-year-old nightclub on Roswell Road just inside I-285 that features partially clad dancers and a full bar. Previously, the business was known as the Coronet Club, which offered a fully nude, co-ed dance staff but was strictly BYOB — an unusual arrangement dating back to an early '90s effort by then-Commission Chairman Mitch Skandalakis and his colleagues to keep the strip club from opening in Sandy Springs by denying it a liquor license.

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When Maxim Cabaret opened in spring 2003, it gave up its adult-entertainment license in favor of serving drinks. Earlier this year, however, the club sued the county to allow it to switch over to full nudity while continuing to serve booze. Club attorney Alan Begner argues that because the business had offered nude dancing for more than a decade, its right to continue that tradition had been effectively "grandfathered," in keeping with the state Supreme Court's long-standing position on nude dancing as a protected form of free speech.

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Apparently, Fulton Superior Court Judge Marvin Arrington agrees. In late May, he ruled that the club can lose the G-strings and keep its liquor license, a decision that would force the county to scrap its 2001 ordinance that prohibits nude dancing and bar service from cohabiting under the same roof.

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That restriction has not been enforced at the four other existing strip clubs in unincorporated Fulton — Flasher's in downtown Sandy Springs and three others clustered on Fulton Industrial Boulevard — due to a legal challenge raised by those clubs in federal court that's separate from the Maxim lawsuit.

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The county's appeal of the Maxim ruling is expected to be heard before the end of the year by the state Supreme Court.

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Steve Rosenberg, an attorney with the county, concedes that his side is hindered by bad decisions made in the past by Fulton commissioners.

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In the late '90s, the county decided to emulate the city of Marietta's success in shutting down nude bars by showing that strip clubs that serve alcohol attract a litany of social ills — prostitution, crime, drunk driving, drug sales — euphemistically termed "negative secondary effects."

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But Fulton decided not to borrow data from another large, urban county. Instead, it would generate it own.

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"Unfortunately, we conducted our own study and it did not show negative secondary effects," Rosenberg says, adding that the county was trounced in court when it tried the first time to enact a more restrictive adult-entertainment ordinance.

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After Fulton ordered another study — this time supporting its claims — judges were quick to point out to county officials that "you can't ignore what you found in your first study," Rosenberg says.

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The county likely must win both Maxim's and the other clubs' cases to keep its existing adult-entertainment ordinance from being tossed out — and keep other strip clubs from setting up shop in Fulton.



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