Down here they're calling it the First Amendment version of "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," and for the past week it has been playing to a rapt audience.
A tiny bilingual monthly newspaper El Pueblo, is threatening to publish the client list of a brothel that catered to leading businessmen and politicians, and the town is in an uproar. There are bumper stickers, country ballads and nervous husbands all over town awaiting the outcome of a court fight scheduled for Thursday morning. And all over a list of names.
"It's not just a list, it's 3-by-5 cards that contain names, amounts they paid, who their favorite lady was, what their sexual preference was, and who referred them," said Jesse Botello, lawyer for El Pueblo. "There are approximately 3,000 names. The paper wants to publish them so that the public can be aware of the alleged propensities of its public officials."
Radio talk shows have been beseiged with calls about the list, local papers have alluded to its contents and Armandina Sldivar, the woman who first threatened to publish it, has played hide-and-seek with sheriff's deputies trying to serve her notice of a temporary restraining order issued last week blocking publication. The deputies finally got Saldivar today when she was in federal court announcing her plans to file a $7 million damage lawsuit against Theresa Brown, the brothel's former madam, as well as Brown's attorneys, the judge who issued the restraining other and the state of Texas. By late afternoon today, the suit had not been filed.
Saldivar is a community activist and a contributor to El Pueblo, a publication started two years ago that is run strictly by volunteers. She says she got the list indirectly from Theresa Brown. No one knows how authentic the list is, but copies of it were made available to local newspapers last week.
"There are some interesting people on there," said Griff Zinger, managing editor of the San Antonio Light, which reported that the list included two judges, two former state legislators, two bank vice presidents and others.
The track-list caper started early last October, when a copy of the list and a book of instructions were seized in a raid on Brown's swanky brothel, in which Brown and several other women were arrested. About two weeks ago Brown, who had at first entered a plea of no-contest to charges of aggravated prostitution, decided to withdraw that plea, fired her first set of attorneys and hired the father and son lawyer team of Pat Maloney Sr. and Jr.
(To make it all the more delicious, her first lawyer, whose father is the state judge who must hand out the case Thursday, announced last week that he was on the trick list. But not, he added, as a regular.)
Brown's new lawyers went into state court and asked the judge to block publication of the trick list "We want to use [the names] and we think the courts are the proper atmosphere in which they should be disclosed," said Pat Maloney Jr. "There's a long list of 3,000 other people who should be prosecuted as well as her."
The constitutional issues have gotten a little lost in the uproar over is and isn't on Brown's list, but the Washington-based Reporter's Committee for Freedom of the Press helped arrange legal counsel for the publication and David Anderson a law professor at the University of Texas who has been advising El Pueblo, says it is an open-and-shut case.
"It could hardly be more clear that it is an unconstitutional order," he said. "It is fairly preposterous that avoiding embarassment for men in San Antonio is sufficient grounds when national security is not."
Brown's lawyers see it differently. "It's based not on prior restraint concepts, but on property and contract rights," said the younger Maloney.
Botello, the monthly's lawyer said El Pueblo will publish the names "after there is a judicial determination that our First Amendment right to publish has been improperly restrained."
In the meantime, as one city councilman told a Dallas newspaper last week. "You can bet there are a lot of husbands taking their wives out to dinner tonight and buying them furs and flowers."