The highlight of the local scene is the bold attempt by the City of Miami to interfere with the First Amendment rights of an internet based adult business called Cocodorm run by a local company called “Flava Works, Inc.”. All of the excitement started sometime in May when packages containing downloads from the internet and allegations of adult entertainment and unsafe sex were distributed to the neighbors surrounding the private house in Miami where the residents lived. These packages were also distributed to all of the media outlets. It is assumed that these packages were created by a hostile competitor who wants to bring down this popular adult website.
The house itself sits in a residential area in an old part of Miami just north of downtown. Within eyesight of the house, prostitutes regularly sell their wares and drug deals happen on the street corners. It is a typical near inner city type of community. When one looks at the residence itself, all you see is a single family residence. There are never multiple cars parked there. There are never large parties or large groups of individuals there at any time. There are simply a group of gay single men who live there.
The only difference between this house and any other house in this or any other community is that it is wired with numerous internet cameras throughout the house. The images that are captured on those cameras are sent out through the internet. People can buy a subscription to the website and obtain access to what the cameras in the house show. What they show are a group of individuals living there, having sex and doing all of the other things that people do in the privacy of their own home. Not one person from the public goes to the actual geographic location of the residence to obtain any adult entertainment whatsoever. There is no commercial enterprise on the premises. People buy the content of the website either through the internet or by obtaining DVD’s either through the internet or by sending a check to a company office located elsewhere.
The overbearing, dictatorial, bullying, and unreasonable code enforcement staff of the City of Miami decided that they wanted to get rid of Cocodorm. After the initial violations were alleged by the City, James Benjamin was hired to represent Cocodorm. Immediately upon the violations being alleged, Benjamin attempted to contact the City and explain that this issue had already been decided by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, Georgia almost seven years ago. In that case, fellow First Amendment lawyer Luke Lirot of Tampa, handled the case for a company called Voyeurdorm. The case was exactly the same as the one facing the folks at Cocodorm here in Miami. In that case, Lirot was able to persuade the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals that all the business activity that took place, took place in “cyberspace” over the world wide web and not at the physical location of the Voyeurdorm in Tampa. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that zoning ordinances did not apply to a situation that was a mirror image of Cocodorm.
Jamie Benjamin told the administrators of this case and even sent a copy to the Assistant City Attorney who prosecutes cases before the Code Enforcement Board. They completely ignored clear and concise Federal law right on the subject. In fact, Miami’s Director of Code Enforcement, De Mola arrogantly testified in Court that he did not even consult with the City Attorney concerning the Voyeurdorm case he received from Jamie Benjamin before continuing with the prosecution and attempt to close down Cocodorm. During over twenty-four hours of hearings that spanned several weeks, it was evident that neither the Board nor the City Attorney, nor the attorney advising the Board had a clue of what they were doing or how to apply this clear law to the exact same set of facts presented to them. The Assistant City Attorney and the staff of the Code Enforcement Department for the City of Miami bullied their way through the hearings in front of a Board made up mostly of lay people who were not well versed in how to apply law.
It was embarrassing that any City government should be run this way. One of the reporters who was in attendance commented to Jamie Benjamin that she had never in her life seen a more unprofessional City Attorney or a more biased Board.
The results from this Board were not unexpected. These type of issues are not usually won at this level of quasi-governmental, far from judicial hearings. The place to be is the United States District Court. We are going to be there very soon and a Federal District Court Judge will simply take the Voyeurdorm case previously decided on these issues themselves and apply it to Cocodorm. The boys at Cocodorm will be able to continue on in their constitutionally protected activities forevermore.
This should be some sort of warning to those of you who intend to continue operating First Amendment constitutionally protected businesses and are attacked by local authorities be it City or County Code Enforcement or the police themselves. First Amendment practitioners like Benjamin & Aaronson or others that concentrate in the area of protecting your First Amendment rights are indeed Liberty’s last champion. We will make sure the government does not trample on your rights.