Winning Streak

Dallas obscenity cases appear to be drying up

After racking up an impressive record of about a dozen wins and no losses defending low-level Dallas porn-store clerks accused of violating anti-obscenity laws, lawyer Andrew Chatham's winning streak is tapering off. That's not because he's losing, mind you, but because the cases appear to be drying up.

That's called working yourself out of a job. It's good lawyering but bad for business.

As the Dallas Observer reported May 23 ("The Naked Truth"), Chatham's strategy in defending clerks charged with misdemeanors for selling naughty videos is straightforward. He appeals to jurors' sense of fairness. The city collects fees to license shops selling sexually graphic material, so it hardly seems right to arrest the clerks peddling the very stuff. Since the story came out, Chatham says, he hasn't had any new cases and hasn't heard of any arrests.

So the Observer and Chatham apparently get results, which is either a good thing or a very bad thing, depending on your view of such titles as Assblasters 4. (Yeah, we know, sequels never live up to the original.)

For his part, Chatham isn't quick to take credit--and neither are we--since the dearth of new cases may just be a coincidence. "I'm hesitant to guess at anything the Dallas Police Department might do, but I think they're reassessing the policy of arresting the people least able to defend themselves," says Chatham, but he admits that's just speculation.

A Dallas vice officer we spoke to says it's probably coincidence, or simply the fact that vice cops have their hands full. "That's who gets arrested, because they're the ones selling it," he says of the clerks. Perhaps, though one might ask why the cops don't go after the store owners instead of the poor shlubs behind the counters. One might, but frankly Buzz didn't have the heart. Whatever you think of obscenity laws--and Buzz doesn't think much of them--you have to feel for cops who are given misdemeanor laws as a tool and told to go out and police the city for sin. That's like handing them a teaspoon and telling them to go drain a lake--and then drilling a hole in the spoon. The officer we spoke to sounded a bit harried, what with the spread of illegal slot machines (also part of the vice squad's beat) and the fact that people with smut complaints tend to call their city council reps first, who then call the cops.

Just guess which cases get priority.

And, of course, don't even mention newspapers that sell ads to "escorts," further stoking the flames of wantonness in the city. Really. We mean it. Don't mention it. Especially not to your city council rep. Buzz has a mortgage to pay.

 
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