Georgia Supreme Court Justice David E. Nahmias (DAVID BARNES / DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM) AJC FILE PHOTO

Georgia Supreme Court hears Sandy Springs strip club case

Since Sandy Springs became a city more than 12 years ago, it’s been fighting with its strip clubs.

Monday, one of the disagreements — between the city and Maxim Cabaret, now known as The Coronet Club — went to the state supreme court.

Sandy Springs prohibits strip clubs and other adult establishments from holding a license to sell alcohol, and limits where they can be located. Attorneys for the strip club said such limits are unconstitutional. The city said they are intended to limit secondary effects of the businesses, like fighting and prostitution.

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Maxim Cabaret has been open since 1992 under that name or others, and was granted an alcohol license in 2003 by Fulton County, according to a filing in the case. But when Sandy Springs incorporated in 2005, it quickly moved to ban alcohol consumption where there is adult entertainment, the filing said.

Other courts have upheld the Sandy Springs ordinances.

In Monday’s case, Maxim attorney Cory Goldsmith Begner argued that the Sandy Springs laws had been “like a moving target for 12 years” as the city amended its alcohol and adult business ordinances to respond to legal complaints.

“That’s kind of what we want governments to do,” Justice David Nahmias said. “Don’t we want them to try to fix it?”

Begner agreed, but said there were still problems with the city’s alcohol laws, and other regulations. She also argued that the court can “offer more leeway” when it comes to interpreting freedom of expression.

Nahmias asked whether regulating alcohol sales relates to regulating speech.

Scott Bergthold, representing Sandy Springs, said the club continues to sell alcohol while allowing dancers to be totally nude. Sandy Springs’ alcohol laws were “never enforced,” he said.

Nahmias wanted to know why.

“If the city cared, why let it drag out for 12 years without seeking injunctions?” he asked. “It seems somewhat odd.”

Bergthold said it was because of the maze of cases the city has been navigating with several adult businesses. He also said the court should reject most of Begner’s arguments, because they had not been heard in the lower court, or were not relevant.

In addition to the Maxim case, two other strip clubs, Mardi Gras and Flashers, have challenged the constitutionality of the city’s ordinances in federal court. They lost at the 11th Circuit Court, and are appealing the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In recent years, the state supreme court has heard other cases regarding adult business regulations in local cities. Oasis Goodtime Emporium, in Doravillelost its bid last year to strike down a pretrial injunction forbidding it from selling alcohol. That case was returned to DeKalb County Superior Court.

And in 2014, the court ruled Brookhaven has the right to regulate sexually oriented businesses; the city had been fighting with the Pink Pony. The two came to an agreement later that year that would allow that club to keep selling alcohol if it paid $225,000 a year to the city. That agreement is good until 2020.

It will likely be several months before the court issues a ruling in the Sandy Springs case.

THE STORY SO FAR

Previously: Since its incorporation in 2005, Sandy Springs has been trying to crack down on its strip clubs

The latest: On Monday, the state Supreme Court heard from both sides about city ordinances that regulate the clubs.

What’s next: A ruling in the case is not expected for several months.

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