Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Anti-Obscenity Bill on Track, despite Warning

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Anti-Obscenity Bill on Track, despite Warning

Article excerpt

Despite an earlier warning that O'Fallon could open itself to unlimited financial liability if it takes on the issue of obscenity, a bill on the subject is expected to be passed when it comes before the board next week.

City Attorney Robert Wohler had issued the cautionary statement, saying that if the prosecution of someone disseminating obscene material is handled improperly, or challenged by someone who believes it was handled improperly, the matter could reach to federal court.

On Tuesday, Wohler said, "The defendant could ask a jury for some ridiculous amount and (the jury) will sometimes give it to them." But Wohler said to prevent such an occurrence, "what you try to do is prepare an ordinance that is a reasonable regulation, not just as someone prosecuting, but as someone challenging an ordinance." Wohler also said the possibility of a constitutional challenge was another reason the measure contains common-sense elements. For example, the pending legislation gives someone accused of violating the ordinance 10 days to resolve the complaint. If a violation remains after 10 days, prosecution can proceed, the measure says, "upon the determination of the city or county prosecutor." Alderman Mike Laws, 1st Ward, has said the reason he probably would vote for the measure was that he had been given assurance that every effort would be made to get the county prosecutor to take the case. That would relieve the city of fiscal responsibility and would help ensure that the highest penalty would be sought against a purveyor of obscenity. Municipal courts can sentence people found guilty to jail, but not to prison, as is the case in a circuit court. Four aldermen, including Laws, had argued against an ordinance, saying the city already was covered under state law. But four other aldermen, notably Cynthia Davis, 2nd Ward, the bill's sponsor, said the city needed local control and a public message that the community found obscenity intolerable. Davis had started the discussion in April in an effort to stop local video stores from renting tapes that she was told were obscene. She was backed by the St. Charles County Christian Coalition and Citizens Against Pornography. …

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