Rul­ing for strip club puts big dent in Mi­ami-Dade cur­few

Miami Herald - - Front Page - BY DOU­GLAS HANKS dhanks@mi­ami­her­

A Mi­ami-Dade judge ruled the Toot­sie’s strip club could stay open past mid­night, declar­ing an or­der from Gov. Ron DeSan­tis pre­empted Mayor Car­los Gimenez from en­forc­ing his cur­few.

A Mi­ami-Dade judge ruled a strip club can keep its dancers earn­ing money past mid­night and ig­nore the cur­few im­posed three months ago by Mayor Car­los Gimenez as a mea­sure against the spread of COVID-19.

The win by Toot­sie’s in Mi­ami Gar­dens for now only ap­plies to that es­tab­lish­ment, but the club’s lawyers say the rul­ing likely spells the end of the Gimenez-im­posed cur­few un­less the county wins its ap­peal.

Judge Beatrice Butchko is­sued an or­der Fri­day al­low­ing Toot­sie’s to op­er­ate all night, say­ing a statewide de­cree by Gov. Ron DeSan­tis lim­it­ing lo­cal COVID busi­ness re­stric­tions left the county un­able to keep the club closed overnight. While it al­lowed coun­ties and cities to set ca­pac­ity lim­its for restau­rants, the gov­er­nor’s

Sept. 25 or­der pro­hibits lo­cal gov­ern­ments from is­su­ing COVID rules that keep peo­ple from work­ing.

The DeSan­tis “pre­emp­tion nec­es­sar­ily in­cludes cur­fews which, by their terms, pre­vent busi­nesses from op­er­at­ing and fur­ther have the ef­fect of re­duc­ing their ca­pac­ity to zero,” Butchko wrote.

Sports radio host Andy Slater first re­ported on the Toot­sie’s suit.

The Mi­ami-Dade County At­tor­ney’s Of­fice de­clined to com­ment, cit­ing pend­ing lit­i­ga­tion. Mi­ami-Dade is ap­peal­ing the rul­ing to the Third District Court of Ap­peal, but the Butchko in­junc­tion re­mains in place for now, Toot­sie’s lawyers said.

Gimenez im­posed the cur­few in July as a way to crack down on late-night so­cial­iz­ing, both at bars and in pri­vate homes. Orig­i­nally set at 10 p.m., it drew in­stant fire from restau­rants, which com­plained the mea­sure ru­ined their night­time busi­ness by forc­ing

cus­tomers to get home early.

Daniel Aaron­son, one of Toot­sie’s lawyers, said Butchko’s con­clu­sion will in­vite other busi­nesses to make the same chal­lenge. “Ob­vi­ously, the writ­ing is on the wall that it should not be en­forced,” he said of the coun­ty­wide cur­few.

James Ben­jamin, an­other lawyer on the Toot­sie’s case, said Toot­sie’s stopped fol­low­ing the cur­few af­ter the DeSan­tis or­der and a man­ager was cited by county po­lice for stay­ing open. He said Butchko’s or­der means the end of overnight work­ers at Toot­sie’s hav­ing to give up their earn­ings.

“All of the en­ter­tain­ers, the bus boys, the cooks, the bar­tenders, the valet peo­ple,” he said. “There’s a boat­load of peo­ple who are go­ing to have their jobs now that didn’t have their jobs a cou­ple of nights ago.”

The suit in­cluded a $500 county ci­ta­tion for a Toot­sie’s man­ager, who ap­par­ently de­fied an or­der to close down af­ter mid­night on Wed­nes­day, Oct. 7. The of­fi­cer noted on the ticket that county lawyers were con­tacted. An email hours later to Aaron­son from Janet Lewis, com­man­der of the Mi­ami-Dade Po­lice Depart­ment’s le­gal bu­reau, said if Toot­sie’s vi­o­lates the cur­few again “arrests will be made.”

Along with at­tack­ing the county’s COVID cur­few, the law­suit prof­fered some­thing of a mis­sion state­ment for Toot­sie’s.

“Plain­tiffs main­tain that the hu­man body is a thing of beauty which, when com­bined with music and rhyth­mic mo­tion in the form of dance, con­veys an im­por­tant mes­sage of eroti­cism,” the Toot­sie’s lawyers wrote. “Plain­tiffs be­lieve that pro­vid­ing this form of ex­pres­sive com­mu­ni­ca­tion to the pub­lic is a ben­e­fi­cial so­cial ac­tiv­ity which en­hance in­di­vid­u­als’ con­scious abil­ity [to con­sider] var­i­ous is­sues in­volv­ing sex­ual can­dor...”

The suit likened erotic danc­ing to speech, pro­tected by the First Amend­ment and said the cur­few de­nied pa­trons their right “to en­joy the ex­otic dance en­ter­tain­ment for which Toot­sie’s is fa­mous.”

RCI Hos­pi­tal­ity Hold­ings

Toot­sie’s in Mi­ami Gar­dens

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