California judge extends strip-club exemption from lockdown

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FILE - In this Dec. 10, 2020, file photo, Cheetahs Gentleman's Club is seen in San Diego. A California judge has extended an order exempting San Diego strip clubs from state pandemic-related restrictions, a setback for Gov. Gavin Newsom in his efforts to make his orders stick. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull,File)

SAN DIEGO – Two San Diego strip clubs can remain open and make their own determinations about providing a safe environment for dancers and patrons during the pandemic, a judge ruled Wednesday, dealing a setback to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s health order that calls for such establishments to be shuttered.

The scope of San Diego Superior Court Judge Joel Wohlfeil's preliminary injunction appeared to extend far beyond the two clubs that sued the state to potentially all of the thousands of restaurants in San Diego County, the state's second-largest county after Los Angeles.

Wohlfiel said it applies to “San Diego County businesses with restaurant services,” including the strip clubs, and that it exempts them from shutdowns and “any related orders” that bar live adult entertainment and go beyond protocols “that are no greater than essential” to controlling the spread of COVID-19.

The judge noted that Pacers International Showgirls and Cheetahs Gentlemen's Club operated for five weeks during the pandemic under their own safety measures, which included keeping strippers 15 feet (4.6 meters) from tables, allowing no more than one stripper per stage and requiring them and other employees to wear masks.

Michael Workman, a spokesman for San Diego County, said county attorneys were meeting "to decipher the ruling and determine what’s next. Stay tuned.” County supervisors last week vowed to appeal any extension of the exemption for strip clubs, which the judge initially granted last month.

The state attorney general's office referred questions to Newsom and the California Department of Public Health. The governor's office said its legal team was “reviewing options to determine next steps.”

“While we are disappointed in the court’s decision today, we remain steadfast in our commitment to protecting the health and safety of all Californians,” Newsom's office said in statement.

Jason Saccuzzo, a lawyer for Pacers, referred to the order's precise language when asked about its scope, saying it was “a difficult question to answer.”