Courtrooms in the Clouds:
The Law and the Skin Trade in the Windy City

Gold Coast Raid

By J. D. Obenberger, Attorney at Law
© 1999 J. D. Obenberger, All Rights Reserved

It must have been a slow day for news.

WBBM and the Sun-Times each told the story recently of twenty-three persons, including nine females, who were arrested at an upscale Gold Coast/River North Hotel for various prostitution-related offenses. They were apparently arrested during the course of what the media called a “sex party”. Published accounts related that the police received a tip from an anonymous source, and that acting on the tip, an undercover officer came to the event and paid $100 for admission to the party and a lap dance. The story related that one or more entertainers offered unspecified sexual acts for money and that a “bag” of condoms was seized. The names, addresses, and ages of two young females was published. The article related the arrest of males who attended the party as well. I don’t know any more about this police raid than appeared on radio and in the papers. Yet the story leaves me with an unsettled feeling about the direction that law enforcement has taken.

I will not get into the issue of whether prostitution should or should not be legal. That is an issue for another day. The press mentioned no facts establishing this crime, anyway. Moreover, no one has been convicted of anything yet, each defendant is entitled to his or her day in court, and so we of the public can pass no judgment one way or the other about whether any actual crimes took place.

But I have to admit some concern about a decision to devote the considerable police, prosecutorial, and court resources that are entailed whenever twenty-three persons are to be arrested. We are talking about many, many man-hours of police officers, the logistics of preparing an undercover officer, arranging for a predetermined signal to trigger the raid, the time of the other supporting officers who will travel and wait until the signal, the ensuing raid itself, the processing of the scene and the arrestees, the transportation of the arrested, their intake and bond, and, of course, the advance briefing of all concerned. Then of course, the numerous trips to court by the officers, the time taken in court to handle the case, and the time and attention of prosecutors.

All for a private party in a closed suite at an upscale hotel.

What justifies so massive an injection of police presence?

Now, this is not a case of obnoxious street prostitution of the sort that can damage the fabric of a neighborhood, cause the lowering of property values, and invite violent crime. To deter these public solicitations, the police department has devoted considerable effort in a decoy program that has largely been successful in eradicating regular street prostitution in Chicago in the areas where it was historically practiced. It has also generated tremendous revenue for the City through the impoundment of autos that are released to the arrested men after payment of a penalty, holding the autos ransom pending the payment of hundreds of dollars. Perhaps the personal embarrassment and destroyed marriages and other family relationships and destroyed careers that may have ensued from these decoy operations may be justified by those who enforce the law by a feeling that they are saving neighborhoods from blight and earning their keep by bringing in the revenue.

But this was in a private room, and the police only knew about it from an anonymous tip. There was no neighborhood to protect, and not much revenue to be garnered.

Within a few days of this incident, another story about prostitution surfaced, one arising through the activities of a young women who told the police that she had provided sexual services in firehouses in Chicago. When Mayor Daily was asked by the media about the need for an investigation into this kind of a matter, the former Cook County State’s Attorney had something characteristically interesting,, blunt, and common-sense to say. He said that this wasn’t like it was going on in a private motel room or something, it was going on at City property, and such conduct just couldn’t be tolerated there.

It’s hard to disagree with Mayor Daley on that.

The Mayor understands the difference, even if some zealous, just maybe perhaps overzealous police officers don’t.

The burden of enforcing the criminal law is an awesome and weighty burden, and as a former prosecutor, I understand something of the duty that comes with the job. But it must never be forgotten that the laws are meant to be enforced with common sense and a measure of discretion warranted by the circumstances of each case and that police resources should be allocated where they best serve the public interest.

I am left with the impression that the kind of police resources exerted here, the amount of manpower and effort entailed, probably exceeded any benefit to the public by a wide margin.

There are, after all, still drive-by shootings, muggings, rapes, arsons, confidence schemes, burglaries, and many other crimes that take place in Chicago. Crimes where people really do get hurt. Crimes where there is a victim to be transported, sometimes bleeding, to an emergency room and sometimes dies there in pain. Crimes where poor people and working people and business owners are defrauded.

Call me old-fashioned, if you will, but I’ve always thought that the essential reason we have police and criminal courts is to deter and stop this kind of crime and to solve the crimes and punish them when they occur.

And as long as these kinds of crimes go on, I would rather have a dozen or two dozen more officers on the street to deter these crimes than in a lofty suite in an expensive hotel apprehending lap dancers, even lap dancers who offer more than a lap dance.

This article is written to generally inform the public and does not provide legal advice nor does it establish an attorney-client relationship. If you have a legal issue or question, contact a lawyer. If you are arrested, make no statement and contact a lawyer immediately.

Joe Obenberger is a Chicago Loop lawyer concentrating in the law of free expression and liberty under the United States Constitution, and his firm has represented many owners, employees, and customers of adult-oriented businesses, both online and in the real world. He can be reached in the office at 312 558-6420 or paged in any emergency at 312 250-4118. His e-mail address is xxxlaw@execpc.com