The City of Santa Ana's legal fight with the Mitchell Brothers adult theater probably will not be affected by a recent court decision barring closure of the theater for showing allegedly obscene films, attorneys for both sides said Wednesday.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Harmon G. Scoville's ruling that the theater cannot be closed despite city allegations that films shown there are obscene merely reiterates constitutional law against prior restraint of free speech, the lawyers said. In fact, other Orange County judges have made the same rulings in earlier city lawsuits against the theater.
"I don't think it's earthshaking. It's just one more time that a judge has ruled on that issue," theater attorney Stuart Buckley said.
James Clancy, who is representing the city in the legal battle, said Judge Scoville declined to rule on the validity of a city law that could revoke the Mitchell Brothers' business license if the theater can be proved a public nuisance. Clancy said he has based all of more than 40 lawsuits that have been filed weekly on that ordinance.
Issue on Appeal
That issue is on appeal after a previous decision by Superior Court Judge Claude Owens, who ruled that there is no difference between closure of a theater and revocation of its business license.
Clancy would not say how license revocation differs from closure. "It's a long and involved process," he said.
Buckley said it will be some time before the city's appeal reaches an appellate courtroom.
In the meantime, lawsuits filed in the case over the last 11 years continue to wend their way through the courts. On Dec. 18, Judge Robert J. Polis will preside over a hearing on how much the city should be required to pay in attorneys' fees for a lawsuit he decided in the theater's favor earlier this year.
Theater attorney Tom Steel has filed accounting of fees in that case and in the case decided by Judge Owens at more than $450,000.
Steel said Wednesday that theater owners Artie and James Mitchell are still interested in resolving the issue despite the City Council's rejection of a settlement proposal earlier this year. In that plan, negotiated by former City Manager Robert C. Bobb and City Atty. Edward J. Cooper, the city would drop prosecution in return for the Mitchells' dropping their demand for attorneys' fees.
Election of Councilmen
Although there have been no offers since then, Steel said he hopes that the election of two new council members, Miguel Pulido and Ron May, may change matters.
Both May and Pulido said during their campaigns for the Nov. 4 election that while they do not support the theater, they do not believe the costly litigation will result in its closure.
"We remain interested in settling it," Steel said.
Pulido reiterated his opposition to the lawsuits Wednesday and said he is researching other ways to combat the problem, which he declined to specify. "I'm not happy with just spending money, especially if we agree that it is not effective," he said.
Councilman John Acosta, a staunch supporter of the court action who says he personally stymied the council's intention to accept the earlier settlement, said he does not know what the next move will be.
"My position right now is to just wait and see where the pieces fall," Acosta said.