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Judge dismisses petition requiring the use of condoms in porn films

An AIDS advocacy group argued that L.A. County 'has passively observed an ever-growing epidemic' in the industry. The court ruled that the county has broad discretion in how it oversees health.

December 23, 2009|By Kimi Yoshino

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge Tuesday dismissed a petition seeking a court order to compel county public health officials to require condom use on porn sets or take other reasonable steps to stem the spread of disease.

The petition, filed by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, contended that the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has "passively observed an ever-growing epidemic" within the porn industry.

"Words alone cannot fight disease," the petition said. "For over a decade, county health officials have talked, watched, written and analyzed. What county health officials have not done is act."

Judge David P. Yaffe rejected the petition, noting that the county has broad discretion in how it oversees public health.

The AIDS advocacy group sued the county in July. The action came weeks after an adult-film actress tested positive for HIV and county health officials released data that showed 18 HIV cases and more than 3,700 cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis had been reported since 2004 by a San Fernando Valley-based clinic that mainly serves the porn industry. Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation officials said at the time that the majority of the cases did not involve working adult film performers.

County officials , saying little investigation was done. Representatives from the public health department declined to comment Tuesday.

AIDS Healthcare Foundation officials plan to appeal the decision and said they would press for change. "We just hope the county will do the right thing without being compelled to do it by a court," foundation President Michael Weinstein said. "This is going to be a years-long battle and it's going to have its ups and downs, but we know in the end that public health is going to win."

Since the adult-film actress tested positive, the organization has launched an aggressive campaign for condom use. It picketed outside Larry Flynt's Hustler store, called for a boycott of Marriott hotels for offering condom-free porn, and filed complaints with the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health against 16 California-based production companies that they believe violated workplace laws.

Last week, the group delivered a petition to the state Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board, asking for a change in regulations to explicitly address adult film production. The petition seeks to require condom use or other methods, including simulated sex acts. If adopted, the regulation would effectively ban "bareback" scenes, or those without condoms, which make up the majority of porn production. The department will review the matter, then make a recommendation to the board early next year on whether the regulations should be amended.

Current state regulations require employers to protect workers from blood-borne pathogens and other bodily fluids. The law is largely used in medical settings, but the state has used the regulations to cite and fine adult film production companies. Under pressure from the state and in a "preemptive move," the adult film industry's Free Speech Coalition published a draft of its own blood-borne pathogen plan -- a 13-page document that outlines numerous safety precautions but stops short of requiring condom use.

The coalition has submitted the plan to producers and directors for input, then plans to present it to state regulators and lawmakers. Executive Director Diane Duke could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but said on the group's website that once the plan is accepted by a majority of producers, it will confirm that the industry "already has highly effective risk reduction procedures in place, thus negating the need for legislation."

"Too many times our industry is regulated without even having a seat at the table," Duke said in the statement. "This time we are building our own chair."

kimi.yoshino@latimes.com

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