Legal Battles

City of Dallas' Squabble With Exxxotica Is Over — For Now

Late Thursday, U.S. District Judge Sidney Fitzwater cancelled one of North Texas' most anticipated trials of the summer when he pulled the plug on Exxxotica's lawsuit with the city of Dallas, dismissing the suit just before the trial's slated June kickoff date.

Fitzwater didn't rule on the case's central issue, whether or not the city infringed on Exxxotica's First Amendment rights when the city council voted not to allow the pornography convention to return to the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center. Instead, Fitzwater dismissed the suit, without prejudice, because the entity that sued the city, Three Expo events, lacked appropriate standing to challenge the city's restriction, Fitzwater said.

Pending any potential appeal, the dismissal decision orders Three Expo to pay the city's court costs.

Three Expo sued the city. The company that actually entered into a contract with the city, however, is called Exotica Dallas. Throughout the trial, Three Expo Events director Jeff Handy said that Exotica Dallas was an arm of Three Expo events. In his decision, Fitzwater decided otherwise, while also refusing a request by Handy to add Exotica Dallas as a plaintiff in the suit, ruling that it was too late in the game to do so.

Since Fitzwater did not address the central First Amendment issues that led to the lawsuit, leaving the door open to Exxxotica appealing the dismissal or refiling the case.

While Handy did not respond to questions about whether or not he would appeal the decision on Friday, he has the opportunity to continue sticking it to the city, which has already paid $675,000 to outside attorneys to fight Exxxotica, should he chose to do so. Handy's previous statements indicate that he will. 
After Fitzwater denied Three Expo's request for a temporary injunction that would've forced the city to host Exxxotica in 2016, Handy indicated that he was willing to pay whatever it cost to have Fitzwater decide the case on its merits."We are in this for the long haul. You can't put a time, or a dollar, limit on the freedom of speech," Handy said.

While Fitzwater's decision on court costs certainly puts Handy's commitment to the test, statement's made by the city council during the debate over the ordinance, as well as statements made by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Friday, seemed to make it clear that the city opted not to sign another contract with Exxxotica because of the content of the convention.

During council discussion of the Exxxotica ban, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and council members for 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."

Paxton, who filed two amicus briefs in support of the city during the trial, didn't celebrate the city's win on Friday because it provided greater local control over the convention center. No, Paxton made it clear that he was glad porn was being kept out of a city of Dallas facility.

“It is vital that governmental entities have the ability to exclude sexually-oriented businesses from property that they own,” Paxton said. “The City of Dallas, through its democratically-elected officials, rightfully decided that its convention center and taxpayer monies should not be home to an event where obscenity and criminal activity occurs.”

There remain constitutional questions to be asked, if Handy decides to ask them.
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young

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