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Kansas City Anti-Porn Petitions Lead to Grand Jury Probes

Religious crusadors try to wipe out adult businesses in K.C.

Kansas City Anti-Porn Petitions Lead to Grand Jury Probes
KANSAS CITY - Courts in Wyandotte and Johnson counties plan to begin grand jury selection today in response to anti-porn crusader Philip Cosby's campaign to wipe out adult businesses in the Kansas City area.

Cosby heads the Kansas City chapter of the National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families (NCPCF). Earlier this year, he organized a petition drive calling for grand jury investigations of 32 adult businesses in Kansas and Missouri for promotion of obscenity. Enlisting the help of church leaders and community activists, Cosby's group delivered the petitions to six county courthouses in May.

Depending on jurors' reactions to adult material, the grand jury investigations could lead to obscenity indictments. The Kansas City Star reported today that "jurors might be asked to watch adult videos, review adult toys, or even take field trips to businesses in question" in an attempt to define community standards.

Thus far, several counties in Missouri have not acted on the petitions beyond sending letters to the businesses in question reminding them to comply with state obscenity law. According to the Star, one liquor store in Platte county has already buckled to the pressure, ceasing all sales of adult material.

This isn't the first time Cosby has used the petition strategy as a tool in his quest to wipe out porn. In 2003, he led an unsuccessful effort to shut down the Lion's Den adult bookstore in Dickinson County.

"It began in the same way as these other counties," recalled attorney J. Michael Murray, who defended the Lion's Den in that case. "A petition was gathered, a grand jury was convened, and an indictment returned – the call for a grand jury investigation was originally dismissed because the petitions were invalid, and therefore, the grand jury had not been properly convened. Following that dismissal, the county prosecutor himself revived the prosecution, and it was at that juncture that we were ultimately successful in our First Amendment argument."

According to the Star, the 29 grand jury indictments against the Lion's Den were defeated "on a technicality."

When AVN relayed this to Murray, he replied: "If you regard the Constitution as a mere technicality, you could argue that. But in fact, the court agreed with us that their argument was unconstitutional."

When his obscenity argument failed, Cosby launched a separate attack on the Lion's Den as a leading proponent of a zoning ordinance designed to put the store out of business. (The Lion's Den, after all, had replaced Mr. Cosby's beloved Stuckey's restaurant near his home in Abilene.)

"Just last week, on July 10, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th circuit out of Denver reversed the decision of a trial court that had upheld the constitutionality of that very ordinance designed to shut down the Lion's Den," Murray told AVN. "Separate and apart from the criminal investigation for the obscenity charges, the same group led by Mr. Cosby advocated that the city commission pass a zoning ordinance that would require adult bookstores and video stores to be relegated to certain locations - which was designed to require the closure of the Lion's Den. The county had obtained a summary judgment in the trial court, and we just won the reversal on First Amendment grounds."

Murray pointed out that grand jury investigations are sealed and thus do not allow defendants to attend.

"I don’t think there’s much credibility in what they’re doing," said Steve Wolverton, owner of an Overland Park video store, Hollywood at Home, which carries a small percentage of adult movies. "I think it’s a First Amendment issue, an issue of privacy."

"The outcome of these investigations remains to be seen," Murray said. "If indictments are returned, we can expect the businesses to defend against them vigorously."
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