An obviously aggravated Liquor Board returned a unanimous decision that allows explicitly sexual fondling in Baltimore’s adult entertainment clubs.
Yesterday’s ruling was the direct result of a recent court decision that allowed nude displays in most of the city’s thirty-five adult clubs. In a conflicting decision that underscored the alarming legal quagmire that they faced, the board also fined the defendant $6,000 for the very acts they had just legitimized.
The Golden Nugget, an adult club on The Block, was charged with four counts of soliciting sexual activity, one count of prostitution, one count of drug possession, and addition four counts of lewd touching under an umbrella “public nuisance” law.
Attorney Mitchell M. Gordon represented Carol Ann Delawder of Glen Bumie, the club owner. Gordon argued that sexual touching was protected from prosecution. A new legal loophole that allowed nude dancing in the adult clubs also allowed sexual touching, because both activities were regulated under the same article of law.
“Touching of genitals is right below the nudity, and it should be allowed,” argued Gordon.
The nudity issue had been decided in a circuit court case against the Gentleman’s Club in January. The presiding judge, Richard Rombro, ruled that a grandfather clause existed in the language of the 1993 bill that outlawed nudity in Baltimore’s thirty-five adult clubs, which overturned Liquor Board ordinances that prohibited nudity in adult clubs. In his decision, Rombro did not include language that would exempt sexual touching from his ruling.
Under the umbrella statue, the board fined Delawder $1,500 for each count of sexual touching, and $100 for the prostitution charge.
Delawder will appeal the fines, and the board was irresolute to the legal strength of their decision to levy a fine. “This case was traumatic. We had to do something,” said Commissioner Claudia Brown.
The board also dismissed the narcotics charge, stating that the defendant was not liable because the company was not aware of the drugs that an employee had in her purse. Katrina Spurgion, a dancer, had plead guilty in Circuit Court to the possession of three bags of heroin and for solicitation of lewdness. This was the second time Golden Nugget had been charged with the offense.
Delawder has owned the Golden Nugget since 1985 with Unicom, Ltd., whose resident agent is her brother-in- law Steve Delawder. On August 27, 1998, Golden Nugget was found guilty for 9 violations, including prostitution, resulting in a $2,600 fine and a 10 day suspension. On March 6, 1997, the club received a $3,500 fine and a 5 day suspension for prostitution, and similar charges resulted in a $2,000 fine on April 6,1995.
The travesty that overran the chambers of Baltimore’s Liquor Board yesterday was part of a vehement but chaotic war that began in late January with the Rombro decision. Since then, nary an under piece has remained on shoulder or -hip on the stages in the adult clubs, irking a surprising number of politicians.
On the state level, three bills were introduced to the General Assembly to address the issue. By the end of the legislative session, two of the bills had died, and a third was withdrawn by its sponsor, Senator George Della, Jr; he had drafted the original legislation that banned nudity in Baltimore’s adult clubs.
In February, the City Council voted for a bill that would consolidate the oversight of adult clubs to the City’s Liquor Board. Formerly, jurisdiction crossed between that board and the Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals. On March 26, the measure was signed into law by Mayor Kurt Schmoke.
In the civic rush to clothe the ladies, the city may have thwarted the efforts of the zoning board to permanently shutdown three of the adult clubs, including the Golden Nugget. A day after the law was enacted, the zoning board refused an appeal by the clubs’ lawyers on a gamut of prostitution and drug violations. The decision will be appealed to the Circuit Court, and a likely issue will be the zoning board’s lack of jurisdiction.