That’s Entertainment! (Gardner)

Seems as though colorful California Court of Appeals Judge Robert Gardner, a Hall-of-Famer, had to deal with more than his fair share of bawdy subjects. But to resolve them, he consistently applied his excellent writing with good old common sense, leaving memorable opinions for the rest of us to enjoy.

In People v. Sarong Gals, the owners of “Sarong Gals,” a bar featuring live nude dancers, appealed an injunction entered against them under California’s Red Light Abatement law, a 1913 statute declaring to be a public nuisance any place used for the purpose of lewdness, assignation or prostitution.

Defendant’s primary argument was that the Red Light Abatement statute can not be lawfully applied to “entertainment.”

Judge Gardner disagreed. He began his opinion with a long list of what he called “hilarious highlights” of the “entertainment” observed at Sarong Gals through police surveillance. The judge’s descriptions of these highlights are a bit too graphic for, but one of them had something to do with a customer’s sunglasses. Use your imagination or go look up the opinion for details.

With regard to defendant’s argument that the statute could not be constitutionally applied to restrict “entertainment,” Judge Gardner opined that just about any activity, including people getting devoured by lions, appeals to the “entertainment” wishes of some audience somewhere:

Lewdness is lewdness and covering it with a patina of “free expression” is a fiction which the law will not tolerate. Masturbating on stage, causing customers to openly masturbate, allowing patrons to peer into females’ innards, simulating sexual intercourse and in other ways titillating the customers sexually amounts to lewdness—even though it may be entertaining.

Presumably, the Romans of the First Century derived entertainment from witnessing Christians being devoured by lions. Given the right audience, the spectacle of a man committing an act of sodomy on another man would provide entertainment value. However, neither this spectacle nor the activities described in the instant case are invested with constitutionally protected values merely because they entertain viewers.

People v. Sarong Gals, 27 Cal. App. 3d 46, 50–51 (1972). (Thanks to Frank Zotter.)

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Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
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