By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
On top of that whole fracas, however, the topless bars have skillfully evaded zoning laws. The properties where most Bachman Lake strip clubs reside don't permit "dance hall" use under their "community retail" status, so city zoning officials told Burch Management to vacate by January 20, 1999. But club lawyers delayed enforcement of that edict by contesting the relocation schedule as unfair and perhaps unconstitutional.
Terrifying the citizenry, some owners also issued vague threats to open new clubs in areas without SOBs if they are forced to move. The bottom line: SOBs have plenty of cash to keep the legal process going through endless appeals and legalistic permutations. And meanwhile, the clubs will stay open. "We plan on litigating as long as we have to," Scott Burch, vice president of Burch Management, a respected company nationally among SOBs, told The Dallas Morning News in 1997. "We've been winning in every court for years."
A recent legal tactic may be the clubs' most audacious move yet. On December 9, Burch Management slapped about 24 city officials, activists, and former city workers with subpoenas, ordering them to provide testimony for a possible lawsuit. With the depositions, the company will prepare a suit alleging "they have been denied fair hearings and due process claims" in 14 instances before police, zoning, and other regulatory boards in recent years, says Assistant City Attorney Corky Davis.
This latest tack has sent fur flying like never before. "Many people see this as just an attempt to bully the community," fumed Dickey, who was served by Burch and testified last week. Neither Scott Burch nor Charles Quaid, an attorney for Burch Management, responded to repeated requests for comment from the Dallas Observer.
The company, Dickey surmises, is trying to build a case that city assistance to neighborhood organizers in Bachman Lake amounts to a conspiracy against them. The neighbors invited bureaucrats to their meetings to explain complicated laws and procedures to them, Dickey admits, but he insists that's a far cry from collusion. "This is what neighborhoods do," he says. "You get involved and you learn. It's all part of this democratic system."
The clubs' dexterity in skirting laws makes some people wonder whether it's worth passing them in the first place. The point many opponents don't realize is that the First Amendment guarantees SOBs the right to do business. Closing them all isn't an option. To some extent, regulating them through zoning and other avenues is, but it's a tricky enterprise made trickier by increasingly high public demand for adult entertainment. For example, adult-video rentals grew from $75 million to $665 million from 1985 to 1996, according to one study.
Regulation is hampered by the fact that nobody wants SOBs forced out of one neighborhood to arrive in their own 'hood. In addition, upscale SOBs resist moving to the few areas zoned for their businesses, which are often shabby industrial tracts, such as the skanky collection of clubs on Industrial Boulevard amidst bail-bond purveyors. That's part of the legal ruse used by "gentleman's clubs" to maintain their turf. But fruitless legal machinations continue to grind on since most politicians want to be seen as doing something to fight the clubs.
More on that later.
Things are quiet on West Northwest Highway when some patrons shuffle out of Baby Dolls shortly before closing at 2 a.m. The three other clubs in the compound -- the Fare West (also a Burch club), Déjà Vu, and the Santa Fe Cabaret -- are also closing for the night.
Other clubs in the Bachman Lake area include Chez Pussycat, a low-end strip joint a few blocks east that faces the lake, and the Men's Club, an upscale club a few blocks west that has an actual SOB license and no legal quarrel with the city. The former Caligula XXI, a club half a block west from the Burch compound, burned to the ground in November after fire broke out in a rear storage area. It's unclear whether owner Nick Rizos will rebuild the club, which hosted performances by marquee porn stars such as Jenna Jameson.
Even though Lipscomb appears to have illegally accepted bribes from Rizos, police brass deny they did anything wrong by acceding to the councilman's wishes that they halt "excessive" enforcement. Police Chief Terrell Bolton said that patrol officers simply stopped doing an unusual number of spot registration checks on cars in the Caligula parking lot. Those duties were passed on to the department's abatement unit, which normally handles such matters.
Federal officials concur that police did nothing improper and haven't pursued an investigation. Police officials insist they never stopped enforcing laws inside the club and say they didn't know about the payments. The activists, however, still demand to know which higher-up officer gave the order for a police lieutenant to meet with Lipscomb and Rizos, after which enforcement duties were transferred to the abatement unit.
"If there are police officers being intimidated, I want to know about it," says city Councilwoman Donna Blumer, who is pressing for an investigation by the city auditor's office.
Since the FBI didn't deem the affair worth its time, approval of an audit by the city council seems unlikely. For now, without any evidence of payoffs to other clubs, the incident may only illustrate the opportunism of one official and the cultural confusion of a club owner. "He comes from Greece," Rizos' attorney Bill Roberts told the Morning News last month in a quote for the ages. "He thought this was expected. He thought this is how business is done."