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Nude expression right trumps open records law

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    News Media Update         ARIZONA         Freedom of Information    

Nude expression right trumps open records law

  • Personal information in nude dancer work permits cannot be revealed under Arizona’s open records law because disclosure of such information might endanger the workers, chilling their constitutional rights to free expression as dancers, a federal appeals panel has ruled.

Oct. 13, 2004 — The First Amendment right of nude dancers trumps the openness requirements of Arizona’s open records law, the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco (9th Cir.) ruled in late September, requiring a lower court to order Maricopa County to protect home addresses and other personal information in nude dancer work permits.

A requirement that adult service providers register with the county using their real names, addresses, telephone numbers and previous aliases does not unconstitutionally interfere with their free expression, the three-judge panel ruled. But making that information public under the state public records law could endanger them by subjecting them to unwelcome harassment, chilling their desire to perform, the court said.

Drawing on language from another federal district court, the panel held that the First Amendment does not permit the county to put adult entertainment workers in the position of applying for a permit to engage in protected expression when information such as their home addresses will be disclosed, enabling “aggressive suitors and overzealous opponents” to harass them.

Dream Palace, a live nude dance theater in Phoenix, sued the county in 1997 challenging a county ordinance and a state law licensing adult entertainment businesses and workers. The lower court said the county’s ordinance went too far in requiring nude workers to wear identification cards and in curtailing the operation of existing businesses while they appealed licensing issues. The ordinance was otherwise valid, the lower court ruled.

Dream Palace appealed, saying that the ordinance is a prior restraint against the rights of expression of the dancers and others who provide adult services for compensation, including food and beverage servers, wrestlers, readers, talkers, listeners and others who work while nude or seminude.

Attorneys for the theater asked the court to strike the requirement that work permit applicants provide the county their real names, telephone numbers and addresses as well as previous aliases. If the court would not bar the requirements, it should prohibit release of the information under the state’s open records law, the theater’s lawyers argued.

— RD

Dream Palace v. Maricopa County; Attorney for Maricopa County, Scott Boehm, Phoenix; attorney for Dream Palace, Randall Garrou, Los Angeles


© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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