By Steve Green (contact)
Fri, Jun 19, 2009 (4:11 p.m.)
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A second lawsuit has been filed against Nye County over its regulation of brothels and the insistence by the county that there’s no constitutional right to engage in legalized prostitution.
The Chicken Ranch brothel and owner Kenneth Green sued the county in U.S. District Court on Thursday. Green claims Nye County is using a policy of attrition to close down its brothel industry by refusing to license brothel officials or to allow existing brothels to be sold.
Nye County Commission Vice Chairman Andrew “Butch” Borasky on Friday said he couldn’t discuss lawsuits against the county. The county’s attorney, Robert Beckett, also said he could not comment on the suit.
Green says a county rule that brothel buyers must be Nevada residents for at least six months has hindered his effort to sell the brothel — and that the rule raises constitutional issues.
He’s also complaining that the county won’t license the brothel’s manager, Debbie Rivenburgh — a situation he says jeopardizes the license should something happen to him.
The county has previously addressed complaints about its regulation of brothels.
In a related case pending in federal court — filed by a Texas man who wanted to buy the Chicken Ranch but was rejected by the county — the county disputed arguments that brothel owners are protected by the due process and the privileges and immunities clauses in the U.S. Constitution.
“Legalized prostitution … is not a fundamental right,” the county argued in the case of Bruce Kahn, who agreed to buy the Chicken Ranch but in 2007 was rejected for a brothel license, in part because he did not live in Nevada.
The county argued that prostitution is unlike some protected interstate industries, such as insurance and law.
“It is not important to the national economy. It is not basic to the livelihood of the nation. And equality of access to bordello ownership and operation is not basic to the maintenance and well-being of the union,” Nye County attorneys argued.
They added that outside of Nevada, and in the eyes of the federal government, prostitution is illegal or is frowned upon.
“Plaintiffs’ due process claim also fails because there is no constitutionally-protected property or liberty interest in a brothel license application that would invoke the protections of the due process clause,” the county said.
Just as unsuccessful gaming and escort service license applicants have no property rights for which to sue, neither do brothel applicants, the county said. That’s because participation in these industries is a privilege, not a right, the county said.
Nye County also said the law gives its brothel regulation board “discretion to consider whatever it pleases in determining who is qualified to conduct licensed prostitution.”
“The regulations … at issue allow the (licensing) board to consider the applicant’s general suitability, character and integrity,” Nye County argued. “They do not call for any particular result based on any particular criteria.”
The court has not yet ruled in the Kahn case.
In the newly filed Chicken Ranch case, owner Green says the county has too much latitude in the licensing of brothels and that its decisions involving the sale to Kahn and the licensing of Rivenburgh are denying him his constitutional rights.
“Representatives of the Chicken Ranch have … been told by Nye County officials that it would be a waste of time and money to attempt to add plaintiff Debbie Rivenburgh to the existing Chicken Ranch license, as the (licensing) board would not license her,” the lawsuit says. “The reason given was that although she was responsible for the day-to-day operation of the establishment, because she did not have enough personal funds to operate the Chicken Ranch on her own, she could not be added to the license, even with the financial backing and guarantees that already exist under the current structure, creating a situation that if anything were to happen to plaintiff Kenneth R. Green, the license to the Chicken Ranch would be in jeopardy.”
“It is plaintiffs’ belief, based on statements made by Nye County officials, that defendants are operating under the incorrect assumption that because legal prostitution involves a privileged license, that governmental officials have virtual unfettered discretion in all licensing matters concerning legal brothels, and are using such assumed unfettered discretion to attempt to rid the county of its legal brothels by attrition,” the suit charged.
Green and the Chicken Ranch made news earlier this year when Green formed a company aimed at exposing widespread illegal prostitution in Las Vegas, 65 miles east of his brothel near Pahrump.
Green’s efforts launched discussions about problems with unregulated, illegal prostitution and about the alternative of legalizing, regulating and taxing prostitution in Las Vegas and Reno, where it’s now illegal.
Original on Las Vegas Sun
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