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Southern California’s San Fernando Valley is the epicenter of the adult entertainment industry. The majority of XXX videos on the market have their roots in this strip of dingy suburbs northeast of downtown Los Angeles. But when the Valley’s porn purveyors need a lawyer — and they always need a lawyer — many head over the Sepulveda Pass to the upscale enclave of Westwood, where the law offices of Weston, Garrou & DeWitt rest high in an innocuous white office tower. There, surrounded by sports memorabilia, generations of family photos, and a panoramic view of the West L.A. hills, attorney Clyde DeWitt has carved out a reputation as one of the pre-eminent specialists in adult entertainment law. The five-partner practice is one of the only firms in the U.S. to focus on this unusual area, which encompasses issues from free speech to contracts to copyrights. “It’s a lot of fun,” says DeWitt, a stocky 55-year-old with a rumbling baritone voice. “First Amendment is the centerpiece of what we do, because the overwhelming majority of our clients’ problems are the government trying to regulate them in one way or another.” Father to three adopted children, DeWitt has a reputation for being straightforward and passionate. By his own estimate, he’s argued hundreds of trial and appellate cases. He has served as the president of the First Amendment Lawyers Association (FALA), a collective of more than 150 adult entertainment and free-speech specialists, and often lectures at their biannual meetings. He also writes a legal column for the trade publication Adult Video News. “He tells you how it is, and he doesn’t kill me with legal jargon,” explains one head of an adult video production company who has used DeWitt’s services for more than a decade. “He doesn’t sugarcoat it.” H. Louis Sirkin, a member of FALA and a partner in Cincinnati-based free-speech specialists Sirkin, Pinales, Mezibov & Schwartz, says that DeWitt is “one of the guys that I consider at the top of the list. As far as his knowledge, he is top-flight.” “He is almost professor-like in his delivery,” adds Luke Lirot, who runs a Florida-based solo practice with many adult entertainment clients. “He’s able to deliver a strong legal argument on some controversial issues with complete dignity.” DeWitt, who has more than 20 years of experience in defense, began his legal career on the prosecution side. A graduate of University of Houston’s Bates College of Law, DeWitt took his first job in 1973 as an assistant district attorney in Harris County, Texas. During his seven-year tenure, he worked in the consumer fraud division and the appellate division. His last two years he served as general counsel to the district attorney, where he defended litigation brought against the sheriff and other public officials. “That’s how I got started doing civil litigation, which is kind of a nerve-wracking way to get your feet wet — defending your boss against a lawsuit for damages,” says DeWitt. DeWitt’s turn to adult entertainment law came through a case he handled in his general counsel role. In 1983, he found himself in charge of Red Bluff Drive-In, Inc. v. Vance, in which a large number of adult businesses sued law enforcement officials to challenge the constitutionality of a 1979 amendment to the Texas obscenity statute that effectively outlawed the sale of sex toys. DeWitt jokes that he was appointed lead counsel over other lawyers only because the judge had been a professor of his, making his the familiar face. On the other team was DeWitt’s partner, John Weston. “That case was the first time I’d ever had any dealings with obscenity law at all,” recalls DeWitt. “The opposing counsel was my current partner. That’s how I met him. I don’t know if he was impressed with me, but I won.” Weston, who had argued First Amendment cases before the Supreme Court, was impressed enough to invite DeWitt to join the firm as a Texas-based partner. Over the next four years, Dewitt built an adult entertainment and criminal practice in Houston. In 1985, he decided to move to L.A. Over the years, he has built up a substantial client list that covers all aspects of the pornography industry. “We kind of go from one end of the business to the other. We have adult cabarets, adult bookstores, strip clubs, Internet sites, video companies,” he says. But he draws the line at child pornography. “I have a feeling that our other clients probably would not like us to develop a reputation as being good at defending child pornography cases. That’s fine with me, because I don’t particularly want to do it either,” he says. What he does want to do is fight for a cause he believes in. Normally, DeWitt appears a cautious and reserved man who chooses his words carefully, but mention the First Amendment and his eyes glitter with the pleasure of a good fight. Like many other adult entertainment law specialists, DeWitt says his corner of the profession is a noble one. DeWitt’s colleague, the Florida-based solo Lirot, muses, “I see what we’re doing as protecting the perimeters. It’s a really important area of the law because obviously the First Amendment is not going to be attacked on those higher political issues first. You are fighting for everybody, even the religious zealots who are out to obliterate your clients.” Mark Kernes, an editor at Adult Video News, adds that — constitutional issues aside — adult entertainment law has high financial stakes. Porn revenues are notoriously hard to confirm, but Kernes says retail sales and rentals of adult videotapes and DVDs topped $4 billion in the U.S. in 2002, the last year for which AVN has statistics. And that figure doesn’t include revenue from Internet adult sites or mail-order pornography, which he estimates bring in more than twice as much. “It’s bigger than the record industry,” claims Kernes. “It’s bigger than major-league sports.” And the industry’s legal needs just keep growing, says DeWitt’s video production client, particularly as Attorney General John Ashcroft has focused more attention on the industry. “The legal climate of this industry is changing all the time. It is ever evolving,” says the client, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Among other demands, a new set of complex record-keeping regulations is set to go into effect soon to document that every actor and model is of legal age. Lawrence Walters, a Florida-based partner with DeWitt’s firm, points out that rules like that mean clients in adult entertainment need more legal counsel than other types of businesses. He says that an adult Web site might spend $20,000 on legal fees in a typical year, “and if they get involved in a lawsuit or case, it could be $300,000.” DeWitt’s video production client says his attorney addresses a range of legal needs. “He doesn’t do only First Amendment. He is a one-stop shop for me,” said the client, who estimates that his company uses about 25 hours of legal help a month. DeWitt said that his firm would like to expand but has trouble finding attorneys who can and will do the job. Weston, Garrou & DeWitt bills as a specialist at rates comparable to a boutique. Although DeWitt declined to give an hourly rate, he confided that “our billing rates are probably more akin to people who limit their practice to a particular field as opposed to a general practitioner.” Still, Kernes says that even the largest video production companies qualify as small or mid-sized businesses, so adult entertainment lawyers need many clients to create a strong practice. “If you’re just doing this to make a buck or hang around with dancers, you don’t last long,” warns Lirot. “This is hard money.” Anita Chabria writes on legal and other matters from Los Angeles.

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