Strip Club Trial Set To Begin Monday

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A jury trial in a federal lawsuit against the city of Athens involving a proposed strip club is scheduled to begin Monday in U.S. District Court, and a court spokeswoman said Friday that unless there is a new development it will go forward as planned.

Christopher Stotts of Three Wide Entertainment sued the city in 2011 after repeatedly being denied zoning permits to open an adult entertainment business in a Stimson Avenue building owned by Demetrios Prokos, who also is a plaintiff in the lawsuit. Named as defendants are the city, former code enforcement director Steve Pierson and current and former members of the Athens Board of Zoning Appeals.

The lawsuit seeks monetary damages, attorney fees and a declaratory judgment that parts of the city zoning code are unconstitutional on their face and as applied to the Stimson Avenue property.

Earlier this month, the attorneys involved in the case jointly submitted to the court a proposed final pretrial order outlining their positions in the case, and indicating they estimate the trial will last four days.

According to the document, Stotts and Prokos filed the lawsuit because they claim that city officials improperly and unconstitutionally denied applications for zoning permits, and that the refusal is retaliation because the business would involve stripping and nude dancing. They also assert that the actions of city officials have prevented them from presenting constitutionally protected speech and expression — the nude dancing — and that the city violated their right to equal protection under the law by failing to automatically grant the first permit application after 30 days, treating them differently than another applicant, Thomas DeBeck.

The city’s position, according to the document, is that the applications were denied on the basis of the Board of Zoning Appeals’ interpretation of the zoning code, not because of the nature of the proposed business. The city also maintains that there was no equal protection violation because DeBeck’s zoning case was different. The city argues that damages that Prokos and Stotts sustained because of denial of the permits were minimal.

The document also lists potential witnesses.

It indicates that the plaintiffs could call attorney Scott Mergenthaler, who represented Three Wide Entertainment in appeals of zoning board decisions; Kate Stotts, sister of Christopher Stotts and an employee of Prokos, to testify about her knowledge of the plaintiffs’ business and damages; and Thomas DeBeck, to testify about the city permit he received in 2008.

According to the document, potential witnesses for either or both sides are Christopher Stotts, Prokos, Pierson, current city Code Director John Paszke and current and former zoning board members Michelle Drabold, Hector Flores, John Golzy, Roger Grueser, Betty Hollow and/or Greg Lavelle.

Last week, Judge Algenon Marbley denied the city’s request that he reconsider an earlier ruling he made on motions for summary judgment. Earlier this week, he denied a request from Prokos and Stotts that the city be prohibited from presenting at trial information on their motive for seeking a permit to open an adult entertainment business.