Three days. That's how quickly it would've been over if Dallas had just let J. Handy have his convention in the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center. Instead, here we are two-and-a-half years later with no end in sight to the legal battle between Handy and the city.
Wednesday, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court ruling dismissing Handy and his company's lawsuit against Dallas. The suit challenged the city's decision to ban Three Expo Events' Exxxotica porn convention from the city-owned convention center in 2016 following a successful run in 2015, arguing that the City Council-enacted ban amounted to an illegal restriction on free speech.
U.S. District Judge Sidney Fitzwater dismissed the case in 2017. In his decision, he said the plaintiff in the suit, Three Expo Events, lacked standing because it doesn't have the same name as Exotica Dallas, the company that initially contracted with the city to put on the event at the convention center. Fitzwater did not rule on the suit's underlying First Amendment issues or the city's claim that it has a business case to regulate who uses the convention center.
Three Expo's attorneys filed an appeal with the 5th Circuit, claiming that Three Expo and Exotica Dallas are affiliated companies, both interested in correcting the harm that's come to them as a result of Dallas' ban.
The majority of a three-judge appeals panel agreed Wednesday, saying that it was clear that Exotica Dallas was not an independent third party and was clearly "integrated and under the control of Three Expo Events." That means the council ban on Exxxotica returning applied equally to both organizations and gave them both standing no matter what name appears on the lawsuit or the city's contract.
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"No reasonable factfinder can read the record of the events leading up to and during the City Council meeting without finding that the mayor and City Council firmly intended to make certain that the Exxxotica convention would not be staged by anyone in the Convention Center in 2016," Judge James Dennis writes in the court's opinion. "Thus, a realistic sense of the purpose and effect of the resolution in this context was that Three Expo, the undisputed promoter and proposed presenter of Exxxotica 2016, was banned from presenting Exxxotica 2016 at the Dallas Convention Center under any guise or circumstance."
During council discussion of the Exxxotica ban, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and council members who supported the ban repeatedly pointed to the deleterious effects of pornography on society as the reason to keep Exxxotica out. Adam McGough, for example, called pornography lethal and "a lie." It was clear that council support for the ordinance was not, as the city's attorneys would later argue, "based on conduct and the best business interest of the convention center."
Handy told the Observer on Wednesday that he was looking forward to continue fighting Dallas in federal court.
"We're obviously extremely excited for this victory," Handy said. "We have said all along that if this case is decided on its merits, we will win. Now, we look forward to our day in a Dallas court and further down the road to bringing Exxxotica back to the good people of Dallas."