After the arrest of porn star Stormy Daniels at a Columbus strip club, City Attorney Zach Klein is refusing to prosecute charges filed under the state’s "Community Defense Act," citing problems with its drafting. But it’s unclear what that means for people were previously charged under the law.
The "Community Defense Act" prohibits any patron who isn't a family member from touching someone "who regularly appears nude or semi-nude" at a club. That's why undercover officers arrested Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, and two other women on July 11 at Sirens Gentlemen's Club.
But the statute’s definition of "patron," according to Klein, carves out the police—meaning performers at strip clubs who touch undercover officers are technically not violating the law. This week, Klein dropped charges against all three women arrested and wrote a memo to Columbus Police Chief Kim Jacobs advising her not to enforce the statute.
Though the Clifford incident raised public awareness about the law, Columbus has used it plenty of times before. According to records obtained by WOSU, since 2015, the city has settled 13 such cases under the statute, typically for $25-300 each.
Defense attorney Brandon Shroy has represented a number of performers charged under the law, and he says many have been reaching out since Klein's move.
“Saying, 'Hey my case was recent, if this is the interpretation, why wasn’t it for me?'” Shroy says. “And obviously the turning point was when Stormy Daniels came to town and everybody started looking really closely at the law."
Shroy agrees with Klein’s interpretation, and he says the law’s shaky footing is nothing new. Most of the charges obtained by WOSU were filed under Klein’s predecessor Richard Pfeiffer, and Shroy used to work as a prosecutor in Pfeiffer’s office.
"We've been aware that there were issues with the law and the way it was written for a long time,” he says.
Klein has turned down interview requests related to his "Community Defense Act" memo. In an emailed statement, a Columbus Police spokeswoman says the department will follow Klein’s advice and not enforce the statute.