Harford County Councilman Barry Glassman said Friday that he will propose appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court a recent federal court decision that ruled a major part of the county's adult bookstore licensing law unconstitutional.
Mr. Glassman said he will introduce a resolution at the County Council meeting Tuesday to appeal the ruling.
Ernest A. Crofoot, the county attorney, said Friday that his office is examining the complex, 10-4 split vote by the judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Judicial Circuit in Richmond, Va. He said a recommendation on what to do next in the three-year legal battle to regulate the county's adult bookstores and video parlors will be made to County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann "very soon."
The federal appeals court ruled 10 days ago that the licensing portion of the county's pornography shop law infringes on First Amendment free speech rights because the law does not guarantee speedy review by the courts, should an application to operate an adult bookstore be denied.
The federal court did not scrap the entire law, but remanded it to the federal District Court in Baltimore to rule on whether other sections of the law, such as rules of operation, are enforceable.
Mr. Glassman said the county's law is patterned after a Dallas adult bookstore bill that was overturned with a recommendation for specific amendments.
"The Dallas bill was amended and has not been tested on appeal, so the Harford County law which contains those changes made to the Dallas bill stands a good chance, if it is taken to the U.S. Supreme Court," Mr. Glassman said.
State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly, Harford County's chief prosecutor, said he believes Harford County's version of the bookstore law doesn't need fixing.
"If the majority of this group of federal judges doesn't like the law, there's no sense trying to fix or amend it," he said. "Either take it to the Supreme Court [on appeal] or try to get the job of regulating these bookstores done in some other way."
Mr. Glassman said his resolution is intended to let county officials know that the County Council will support an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Mr. Cassilly said that even if county officials decide against an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, he will continue to respond to many citizens' complaints about activities going on at primarily two of the county's four adult bookstores.
He said the businesses known as The Depot in Havre de Grace and U.S. Books in Edgewood are the targets of most of the complaints.
"We've had undercover officers report that sexual activity was -- going on right out in the retail portion of these shops," Mr. Cassilly said.
Mr. Cassilly said last year that, given an enforceable law regulating illegal sexual activities, he would "nail the doors shut" on adult bookstores that violated the law.
"As it is now, it costs the county 100 times as much to get a single misdemeanor conviction on these operators," he said. "The maximum fines are like pocket change to these guys."
Mr. Cassilly said that it's particularly troublesome that the county licensing law rejected by the federal appeals court isn't meant to shut down adult bookstores, only to regulate operators who don't run their businesses legally and responsibly.
"All we really want them to do is keep records, make sure customers are 18 years old and not allow sexual activities to go on within their walls," he said.