A federal judge refused today to halt the Virginia State Corporation Commission from considering a proposal to close an adult bookstore in Fairfax County by revoking the firm's corporate charter.
District Judge D. Dortch Warriner declined to issue an order blocking a commission hearing into a case the state attorney general has filed against Croatan Books Inc.
The firm operates a store on Rte. 1 in the Mount Vernon area that a state judge has declared a public nuisance.
Warriner declined to intervene in the case, saying the federal courts should not interfere with an ongoing state action.
The commission later held a brief hearing on the proposal and set dates for lawyers to submit written evidence in the case, believed to be unprecedented in Virginia. There were no oral arguments on the merits of the case, which a spokesman said probably will not be decided until mid-November or later.
Burton W. Sandler, a Baltimore lawyer representing Croatan, described the effort to shut the store as "motivated by forces trying to control the minds of the citizens of Virginia."
Since its incorporation in 1975, Croatan, which runs Show Place Adult Books, has been convicted more than 75 times in Fairfax County of violating Virginia's obscenity laws and has been fined $664,000.
Earlier this year, however, Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Barbara M. Keenan declined to order the store closed, although she ruled it was a public nuisance.
Sandler said that while the state attorneys were acting in good faith, the charter revocation attempt was an effort to "use the SCC as a vehicle to become a censor."
"I've handled obscenity cases all over the country and this approach has never been used before," he said. "If it is successful, it will spread like wildfire."
Sandler said abuse of a corporate charter means "if you are incorporated to sell ice cream, you can't sell beer. Croatan is licensed to sell publications and that's what it's doing."
He said that "Moral Majority types" in Fairfax County were behind the effort, which he described as "selective prosecution."
The attorney said his client's convictions have nothing to do with whether a charter has been abused.
Sandler said that if the SCC revokes Croatan Books' charter, he will return to the federal courts to seek a permanent injunction against the revocation.