Three French Quarter strip clubs that won a temporary reprieve last week after having their liquor licenses suspended because of alleged prostitution, drug dealing and other offenses were again ordered Wednesday to stop serving alcohol.
Judge Paula Brown, of Orleans Parish Civil District Court, ruled that the state Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control acted within its authority when it suspended the liquor licenses of Centerfolds, Lipstixx and Scores.
Another judge had issued a temporary restraining order halting those closures last week.
Brown stressed that she was not making a final ruling on whether the clubs allowed drugs, prostitution and lewd acts as the ATC has charged. But, she said, the ATC had the right to act even before a full hearing.
“The Supreme Court has recognized on numerous occasions that the protection of the public health and welfare is paramount,” Brown said. “Deprivation of property to protect the public health and safety is one of the oldest examples of permissive summary action.”
After a monthlong investigation dubbed Operation Trick or Treat, the ATC suspended the liquor licenses of five French Quarter clubs. Judge Regina Brown quickly granted four of them temporary restraining orders that allowed them to keep operating, angering ATC Commissioner Troy Hebert.
State Police are conducting a separate, criminal investigation of the clubs but have not filed any charges.
A temporary restraining order keeping another club, Chez Joey, open is still in effect. The fifth club, Dixie Divas, remains closed.
The three clubs in court Wednesday argued that the ATC acted too quickly, without enough detail and without enough warning.
In one club’s case, attorney Carolyn Gill-Jefferson said, the ATC alleged that a club’s employees had allowed three violations of the law but offered no other details.
“We have no factual findings. All we have is that (Hebert) states these occurred three times. He doesn’t state whether or not it was an employee, whether or not it was a dancer; he just states three times,” Gill-Jefferson said. “He’s gotta tell us.”
Former Civil District Court Judge Michael Bagneris, arguing for the ATC, responded that the state had given the clubs plenty of detail about the alleged offenses and had full power to issue a temporary suspension once it believed public safety was in danger.
The battle is not yet over. The ATC has set a Nov. 9 administrative hearing on whether to make its temporary suspensions permanent. After Brown issued her ruling Wednesday, the clubs immediately asked the court to prohibit Hebert from overseeing that hearing.
Gill-Jefferson, also a former Civil District Court judge, argued that Hebert has shown a “significant bias” in fiery comments he has made to the press about the clubs turning the Quarter into the “wild, wild West.” Brown set a Friday hearing to rule on the clubs’ motion to recuse Hebert.
Representatives of French Quarter resident groups and Covenant House, an anti-human trafficking organization, cheered the judge’s ruling.
If the allegations are true, “these clubs are creating crime in the French Quarter, and crime affects the residents of the French Quarter,” said Susan Guillot, president of French Quarter Citizens.
James Kelly, executive director of Covenant House, said the Quarter’s licentious reputation should not give club owners cover to exploit young women.
“Why should these guys get a pass?” Kelly asked. “No other business in New Orleans would get a pass.”