Should strippers be allowed to touch themselves on stage? Orange County thinks not. County law specifically prohibits "fondling, stroking or rubbing of human genitals or anus."

On March 30, however, a federal judge in Orlando struck down that and other portions of the county's adult entertainment code as unconstitutional impediments to free speech. "Some self-touching, even of the genitals or anus — no matter how crude or distasteful — may be ‘central to the expressive nature of the dance itself,'" ruled Judge John Antoon II, quoting from a 2005 ruling from a case in Georgia.

Gone too is the provision barring dancers from exposing "any specified anatomical area while simulating any specified sexual activity with any other person at the adult entertainment establishment, including with another worker."

Some things haven't changed: Dancers are still required to wear pasties and G-strings. Under the county code, if strippers danced in an especially explicit manner, they had to completely cover up their genitals, buttocks and "that portion of the human female breast encompassed within an area falling below the horizontal line one would have to draw to intersect a point immediately above the top of the areola."

But no longer.

"The First Amendment cannot both protect the expressive element of erotic dancing and also restrict and contort it by prohibiting the very movements that contribute to its erotic message," Antoon wrote. "While the public en masse may not approve of such explicit performances, the First Amendment does not turn on generally accepted views of propriety."

That ruling stems from a 2005 lawsuit filed by Rameses Inc., the corporation that owns Cleo's gentlemen's club on South Orange Blossom Trail. In November 2004, after a five-month investigation, agents with the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation arrested 52 of Cleo's patrons and workers on charges ranging from drug dealing to public nudity to violating the county's adult entertainment code.

The club assumed that, as happened following a smaller raid at Cleo's in 2001, the county might try to suspend or revoke its adult entertainment license. (After the first raid, Cleo's settled for a $35,000 fine.)

According to Antoon's ruling, the MBI itself has said it doesn't have enough evidence of wrongdoing by club management for the county to seek Cleo's license after the 2004 raid. So club lawyer Steve Mason filed a federal lawsuit seeking to have the ordinance declared unconstitutional.

Antoon didn't throw out the whole thing. He upheld the county's process for going after licenses, as well as a ban on entertainers touching patrons.

Orange County officials say they have not yet decided if they will appeal the ruling.

Mason is preparing a brief demanding the county pay Rameses' legal fees.

"It would be therapeutic for the county to have to pay some money," he says. "They can't be very happy `with the verdict`."

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