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Porn producer: L.A. County condom law violates free-speech rights

January 12, 2013 |  8:27 am

vivid

A free-speech debate is headed to court over Los Angeles County's landmark law requiring actors in adult videos to wear condoms during filming.

One of the nation's most prominent pornography producers is suing the county in federal court to overturn the law.

The suit by Vivid Entertainment, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, says the 1st Amendment's protection of free expression was violated after 57% of L.A. County voters approved the condom-porn measure during the Nov. 6 election.

"The exercise of 1st Amendment freedoms cannot be limited by referendum," the suit said. The ordinance stands "as an unconstitutional prior restraint upon protected expression."

Supporters of the condom-porn measure say Measure B does not violate the 1st Amendment. They say it is a health and safety measure aimed at protecting porn performers from contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

"This is not a free-speech issue. This is a workplace safety issue," said Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. "If they want to digitally remove a condom" from the final cut of a film, "there's no issue."

Steven Hirsch, Vivid's founder and co-chief executive officer, said in an interview: "We will fight for our right to express ourselves as we please."

Paul Cambria Jr., the lead attorney on the case, said Measure B infringes upon how directors make films. "Let's assume that we're filming an adult movie and it was taking place in the swashbuckler times. All of a sudden, Capt. Jack slips on a condom."

"Obviously, that would basically destroy the movie, because it would be fake. Obviously, people would know that couldn't have happened then," Cambria said.

Hirsch said such special effects are "cost-prohibitive and it puts me in a place where we're not on a level playing field" with other adult film performers based outside of the county.

Measure B requires that porn producers purchase public health permits to film in the county, and mandates condom use as a condition of that permit. The ordinance took effect in December, but the county has not decided how to enforce the law.

Hirsch said he wanted to overturn the measure to allow the porn performers and producers to remain in Los Angeles.

California is one of only two states — the other is New Hampshire — where state high courts have prohibited the prosecution of porn producers under anti-prostitution laws. Los Angeles is a world leader in the production of adult films.

"This is where they work, this is where they live, this is where our families are. And there's no reason we should have to move," Hirsch said.

The suit also argues that only the state, rather than the county, has the ability to impose occupational safety and health standards.

Weinstein cited a legal opinion by the state's Division of Occupational Safety and Health in 2011 saying that a municipal government may enact its own public health standards.

Hirsch said that after Measure B went into effect, Vivid suspended filming within Los Angeles County.

County officials did not respond to a request for comment.

-- Rong-Gong Lin II

Photo: An editor works on a porn video at Vivid Entertainment. Credit: Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times 

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