A Baltimore judge yesterday signed an order delaying until December enforcement of most elements of a new city law passed to regulate adult entertainment businesses on The Block.
The East Baltimore Street Merchants Association, a group of more than 20 owner/operators of adult entertainment businesses on or near The Block, challenged the constitutionality of several elements of the law in a suit filed yesterday in Baltimore Circuit Court.
The law requires owners of adult entertainment businesses to obtain a new type of license from the city housing department and to operate only between 6 p.m. and 2 a.m. It also would restrict "barkers" that have traditionally stationed themselves outside of the businesses' open doors.
The law took effect last month, and business owners received notice that they had until Oct. 10 to comply with its provisions, according to the suit.
The association went to court yesterday seeking a temporary injunction to halt enforcement of the law. The group and the city reached a temporary compromise, approved by Circuit Judge Ellen M. Heller. It requires the businesses to apply to be licensed by the city housing department by Oct. 15 and to keep their doors closed other than to allow patrons and employees to enter and leave. In return, the city agreed not to otherwise enforce the law until a hearing on the motion for injunction. Robert B. Schulman, a lawyer for the merchants association, said that hearing is scheduled for Dec. 1.
Mr. Schulman said the law amounts to an infringement on his clients' First Amendment rights. "In the end we feel that means it will put them out of business," said Mr. Schulman, who explained that more than half of his clients' business is conducted between noon and 6 p.m.
City Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, who chaired public hearings on The Block legislation, yesterday said he was surprised and disappointed by the challenge to the law. The 2nd District Democrat said that he had worked with the business owners and bill proponents to reach what he thought were fair compromises.
"We left the room with an agreement. Now, for some reason, they've chosen to renege on it," Mr. Ambridge said "I thought it was fair and reasonable, unless something has materialized since passage that I'm not aware of."
"I feel that it is legally sufficient," Mr. Ambridge added. "I guess we'll just have to wait for the judge to affirm that."
Clinton R. Coleman, a spokesman for the mayor's office, said that the Schmoke administration plans to fight to uphold the law.