Utah to temporarily stop enforcing law in 'Deadpool' case

AP News
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Posted: May 03, 2016 5:30 PM
Utah to temporarily stop enforcing law in 'Deadpool' case

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Utah cinema in trouble with state regulators for serving alcohol during a showing of superhero film "Deadpool" will not get slapped with future citations under an obscenity law mostly regulating strip clubs, as long as the theater's lawsuit plays out in court.

The state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control agreed that officials would not cite Brewvies for any movie screenings with alcohol as long as the films shown are rated "R'' or less, state lawyers said during a federal court hearing Tuesday in Salt Lake City.

Brewvies attorney Rocky Anderson had warned the state that he would file court challenges at every step along the way if the state made any attempt to enforce the law before the a judge rules on whether the law is constitutional.

Utah filed a complaint against the theater under a state law generally used to require strip clubs that serve liquor to keep their dancers wearing G-strings and pasties. But the law also bans serving booze during films with simulated sex or full-frontal nudity.

Playing "Deadpool" while serving alcohol violated the law because the movie includes nudity and simulated sex, including a suggestive scene in the film's credits involving a cartoon unicorn, the state said.

Brewvies argues that the law is so broad it would apply to an exhibit of Michelangelo's statue "David." Anderson said the state has used the law to intimidate the theater and violate its free speech rights, citing it in the past for showing films such "The Hangover Part II" while selling drinks.

"That's what's given the DABC the notion that they can go around and censor and punish people for what otherwise is First Amendment protected," Anderson said.

Anderson had sought a restraining order, but he said Tuesday's agreement essentially served the same purpose.

The state said Brewvies faced a fine up to $25,000 and possible revocation of their liquor license.

Parker Douglas, a lawyer with the Utah attorney general's office, would not answer questions from reporters Tuesday about whether Utah's law should be repealed, saying his office's role is to defend the state's laws.

Lawmakers and the governor in the conservative state, whose politics are dominated by adherents of the Mormon religion, have said they support the liquor board's move to enforce laws and will let the case play out.

It's unclear how long the court battle will wind on because no hearings or trial have been scheduled. Lawyers for Utah and the theater say they'll each make their case to the judge in court filings sometime before mid-December.

Brewvies only allows people 21 and older to attend movies and serves food and liquor to customers. Anderson said the theater never shows films rated above "R."

The theater will take advantage of its temporary grace period under the law this week by holding a special midnight screening of "Deadpool" on Friday to raise money for its court battle. That's on top of more than $22,000 collected in an online fundraising campaign to help with the legal bills. Actor Ryan Reynolds, the star of the foul-mouthed superhero film, gave $5,000 to the effort and has tweeted his support.

Utah's law is similar to an Idaho measure that lawmakers repealed this year when a theater sued after its liquor license was threatened for showing "Fifty Shades of Grey" while serving alcohol.

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Follow Michelle L. Price at https://twitter.com/michellelprice