Seminole's silent partner 

Seated with Seminole County officials gathered June 10 for the first of two public hearings on proposed adult-entertainment and nudity ordinances, attorney David Cortman might have been mistaken for another in the cast of county bureaucrats. But Cortman is a legal consultant -- albeit unpaid at this point -- assisting, if not directing, the preparation of the ordinances designed to restrict adult clubs and bookstores to designated "combat zones" in unincorporated areas of the county, as well as ban public nudity and skimpy bathing suits from Casselberry to Sanford to Oviedo. Cortman is a lawyer with the American Center for Law and Justice, a legal arm of the Christian Coalition. "The ACLJ is currently assisting, or has assisted, many municipalities throughout the country with ordinances regulating sexually oriented businesses," Cortman wrote in an April 18 letter to the Seminole County Commission offering help "drafting an ordinance, working through the enactment process, and, if necessary, in defending the ordinance in court." The ordinances have been written in the past two months, while the clock continues to tick toward the bewitching hour (June 30) ending moratoriums on licensing of adult clubs. Also set for discussion at hearings on June 24 are ordinances setting standards for public nudity and the number of bars allowed in Seminole County. The county commission is expected to approve the ordinances -- heavily influenced by the ACLJ -- at the conclusion of the hearing. And Cortman is almost certain to be involved in defending the ordinances against legal challenges. All of which begs the question: Will Seminole County residents wind up with ordinances reflecting their moral values or the extremist dogma promulgated in smaller communities from coast to coast by a legal arm of the religious right? There is no doubt in the mind of David Wasserman, an attorney for the licensed clubs. "The ACLJ is sitting at the table with the county government telling them what to do," he says. Using the adult-club ordinances as a smoke screen, Wasserman says the commission, under the ACLJ's direction, has seized the opportunity to recast the county's moral stance in the same extreme light as in Brevard County. Brevard's nudity ordinance has been used to force beach nudists and, most recently, a Brazilian woman in a revealing thong bikini, to cover themselves or be handcuffed ("Butts, Seriously," May 29). "We don't have a beach. Why are they doing it?" says Wasserman. The sameness of the language of the Seminole and Brevard ordinances leaves little doubt the Christian Coalition has left its imprint on the laws of at least these two Florida counties. A passage found in both ordinances is a dead giveaway -- one that defines "nude" to include the display or exposure of "the male genitalia in a discernably turgid state." No one else really talks like that. Also, attached to Cortman's letter was a "report" on the "secondary impacts of sex-oriented businesses upon its immediate neighborhood," a popular theme of the religious right, despite the lack of legitimate proof of the alleged connection. The Seminole ordinance refers to "adverse secondary effects such as, but not limited to, prostitution, attempted rape, rape, and assault," while Brevard's aims to "suppress the adverse secondary effects that public nudity generates." Deputy Seminole County Attorney Lonnie Groot sees nothing untoward about adding Cortman to the team assembled to write the ordinances. In fact, he welcomes the help, likening Cortman's role to that of the state attorney and sheriff's adviser on the team. But Cortman is no public official sworn to act on behalf of county residents. He is a lawyer with a sophisticated rightist agenda. The county commission decided to include Cortman. "That shows the commissioners already have the same view to some extent," Groot says. Other voices on the organized right also were heard. David Caton of the American Family Association sent materials and reviewed proposals. County Commission Chairman Randy Morris says he was unaware, until recently, of the ACLJ's pedigree. But when pressed, he said he supports its work. Asked to explain why the commission turned to the ACLJ for help, Morris pointed the finger at Commissioner Dick VanderWeide, who did not return a call seeking comment. In theory, the final language of the county's ordinances could be made less severe. But, after two months, it is unlikely that much more than a minor tweaking will be accomplished on June 24. The moratorium expires six days later. The county is intent on having the ordinances in place. So intent, Groot personally plans to deliver them to the Secretary of State's office the day after the hearing to ensure they are in effect by July 1.

More by Lawrence Budd


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