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Archive for Sunday, April 17, 2005

Little-used law helps target sex shops

Retiree gathers signatures for a citizens petition to call for grand jury investigation

April 17, 2005

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— In the state where Carry Nation started her saloon-busting temperance movement, Phillip Cosby is battling sex shops.

Rather than using a hatchet, as Nation did a century ago, the 54-year-old retired Army master sergeant uses the power of persuasion and a seldom-used Kansas law.

"It's not your Playboy of 30 years ago. This is porn on crack. It's so depraved and so perverse that the average Kansas citizen would recoil," the soft-spoken Cosby said in an interview last week as he worked from his den at a desk that includes a computer, phone, fax machine and a small framed "Jesus Loves You" sign.

"One of my goals is to chase them wherever they are," Cosby said. "I want these stores out of these communities."

After Cosby met twice last year with people in this town of 45,000, church groups started circulating petitions in October, requesting a grand jury investigation of two adult stores. The panel began its work earlier this month.

He also has started talking to people in Wichita, Great Bend, Hays and Topeka about what they can do to battle adult stores, including pointing out the little-used law allowing for grand juries by citizen petitions. He says the petitions start only if local officials are reluctant to act after the problem is pointed out to them.

"My goal is to be in every county this year that has a pornography shop. I'm going there to speak to the community about the dangers of pornography and tell the people they aren't helpless, that the law is on their side," he said.

Mike Zrubek, owner of Behind Closed Doors, one of the two Salina stores under investigation, said if there were no demand for stores like his, they wouldn't be in business.

"It's a small group imposing its will," Zrubek said. "They're using taxpayer money to push their beliefs on other people."

Bob Johnson, manager of a liquor store across the street from Zrubek's store, doesn't see the cause for alarm.

"I don't understand why some of these people think they need to go out and save the rest of us," he said. "As far as consenting adults go, I don't think it does any harm."

The other Salina store under investigation is Priscilla's. Its manager, who refused to give her name, declined to comment in a telephone interview.

Saline County Attorney Ellen Mitchell said the 15-member grand jury can continue until early July and could decide whether the state obscenity law was violated. The U.S. Supreme Court has left it up to communities to decide what is obscene.

"The grand jury will have to decide where to draw the line," she said.

Kansas University law professor Richard Levy said tackling adult entertainment raises complicated legal issues.

"Not all sexually oriented speech is obscene. Some sexually oriented speech is protected by the First Amendment," Levy said.

State law defining "obscene device" makes an exception for those "disseminated or promoted for the purpose of medical or psychological therapy." Levy said an adult store prevailed in a Kansas Supreme Court case several years ago.

"The court was concerned that some of these devices were prescribed for treatment by therapists and that preventing their sale interfered with the privacy rights of patients," Levy said.

Mitchell said petitions started after she told Cosby and others that she wanted to see what other counties were doing and what the Kansas Supreme Court eventually might say about the obscenity law, although no case on the issue is pending before the state's highest court. Cosby said about 1,200 signatures were gathered on the petitions, about three times more than needed.

"Because I wanted to wait, they assumed I was against them," Mitchell said.

Cosby began his anti-porn campaign in his hometown of Abilene in 2003, when a Lion's Den store opened off Interstate 70, north of the town of 6,500. Near the store is a billboard that Cosby and others put up proclaiming: "Jesus Heals and Restores. Pornography Destroys."

In Abilene last year, a Dickinson County grand jury returned a 29-count indictment against Lion's Den, but it was thrown out last month on technical grounds. Then, County Attorney Keith Hoffman filed a 10-count misdemeanor complaint against the store, accusing it of illegally promoting obscenity.

Jim Everett, Lion's Den chief operating officer, declined to comment on the pending case.

"Mr. Cosby and his associates have their thoughts, and we have our thoughts and in America, it's a free country," said Everett, whose company has some 30 adult stores in a dozen states.

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