Dancers ask judge to keep files private

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Spearheaded by one dancer's request, a group of more than 200 dancers for a Parkland strip club wants a judge to prevent the disclosure of their names, addresses and phone numbers to a Pierce County Jail inmate.

Dancers in adult-entertainment clubs are required to file for licenses with Pierce County. Lawyers are asking for a permanent injunction barring the county from releasing the license applications to Robert Hill, a controversial Tacoma figure who has been convicted of charges including stalking a porn star.

The county previously released photos of more than 100 dancers to Hill.

One dancer, known anonymously in court filings as "Jane Doe," first sought the injunction last summer after Hill requested her license application as a public record.

The dancers' attorney, Sean Small, stated in court documents that Jane Doe's privacy rights will be violated and her safety put at risk if any records are released to Hill.

In light of Hill's criminal record, Small said: "Jane Doe could face serious harm if Mr. Hill is permitted to learn her home address, telephone number, age, date of birth, height, weight, race, eye color, hair color, complexion, criminal history, place of birth, location of tattoos, performer name and where she works."

Jane Doe and the other dancers are licensed to work at DreamGirls at Fox's in Parkland, the only strip club in unincorporated Pierce County.

In his Jan. 25 order certifying the dancers as a class action, Pierce County Superior Court Judge Ronald Culpepper said their right to privacy is threatened as a result of a public records request by Hill, who sometimes goes by the name "The Traveller." A trial before Culpepper is set for Feb. 12.

Until the judge rules on a permanent injunction, temporary court orders prevent any release of information for the 212 dancers -- the number licensed since DreamGirls reopened.

Pierce County is taking no position on the dancers' injunction request, according to court documents.

County Auditor Julie Anderson said there is no exemption under state public records law that prevents her office from releasing the dancers' full licence applications.

"My role in this is to be a law-follower," Anderson said. "I've followed the law."

In court documents, Small cites a state law allowing citizens to ask for an injunction to prevent the release of records to an inmate.

That's the protection the dancers are seeking in this case — and were Hill not locked up, it would not apply.

Deputy County Prosecutor Cort O'Connor said there should be a means enabling private citizens to obtain a court order blocking the release of personal information that puts their safety in jeopardy.

"I think that would be a good idea but I'd have to leave it up to the public officials," O'Connor said. "It just seems surprising to me there isn't one."

Hill, 43, is in the Pierce County Jail for causing a scene at a local bar. A jury convicted him of third-degree malicious mischief and fourth-degree assault. He is due to be released April 15.

He also spent time locked up after being convicted of intimidating a judge.

Hill was sentenced to four months in jail in 2011 for stalking a porn star during a visit to Seattle for the opening of another DreamGirls club. He also was arrested in 2009 for violating a restraining order secured by Anderson when she was a member of the Tacoma City Council.

Hill has a history of requesting personal information of adult entertainers. In July 2010, he requested all applications of adult entertainers ever processed by the Auditor's Office, but he didn't pick them up, Anderson said.

Earlier that year, he requested all adult entertainer business licenses for the City of Lakewood. Deja Vu, a strip club in Lakewood owned by the same company as DreamGirls, sought to block release of those records. That case was dismissed after Hill failed to appear in court, documents state.

A series of steps led to next week's trial:

• Hill asked in May 2012 for color photos of adult entertainers who had applied for licenses so far that year.

• The Auditor's Office responded with 103 photos of dancers and five photos of managers without their names. "There is nothing in law that would prohibit the release of those," Anderson said.

• In June 2012, Hill returned a photo of one dancer and requested a copy of her application.

• The Auditor's Office notified the dancer, Jane Doe in court records, that her application would be released unless a court order was obtained. Anderson said state law gives her the option to provide what's called "third-party notification" — something she did then for the first time because of Hill's previous conviction for stalking an adult entertainer."And he identified one particular woman," Anderson said. "That, combined with the fact that the release would include her personal address warranted a third-party notification."

(No such notification was done in March when The News Tribune requested and obtained all current dancer applications for Fox's — 56 at that time — from the Auditor's Office. Anderson said that was different because the newspaper's request came from a credible journalist and "was not targeting one individual.")

• Jane Doe objected to Hill's request for her application, and her lawyer obtained a temporary restraining order in July.

• Later in July, Hill withdrew his request. Culpepper issued a preliminary injunction on behalf of Jane Doe and 107 other adult entertainers barring the Auditor's Office from releasing any of their personal information to Hill until the case is resolved.

• In August, Hill requested photos of dancers who had applied for licenses since his last request. The Auditor's Office notified the dancers' attorney that the new request was not covered by the preliminary injunction and that the photos would be released unless a court order was obtained. Small obtained another restraining order.

A permanent injunction could serve as a preventive measure in case Hill expands his request to include more than photographs, as he has in the past.

The next step is expected to take place at trial. Hill said in court documents he will represent himself and plans to call the auditor and Jane Doe as witnesses.