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Want to Exercise Your 'Air Rights?' What's the Safe Word?


Who knew that, on my first day, I would be presented with the opportunity to, once and for all, dispel the myth that property and land use law is, by definition, imbued with Ambien-like, slumber-inducing characteristics? Professor Ngai Pindell, of the UNLV School of Law (apparently thriving in its 11th year of operation; what were the odds?), ran a brief post on the Land Use Prof Blog about a gentleman by the name of British "Lucky" Paul who so incensed his suburban Maryland neighbors that they felt they had no choice but to call in the big guns. Specifically, the Montgomery County Department of Permitting Services. What, you might ask, could "Lucky," né Paul Pickthorne, have possibly done to warrant such treatment at the hands of the residents of the bucolic-sounding Merrimack Park subdivision? He apparently violated a local zoning ordinance by turning the “castle” that he is renting into a BDSM theme park, charging up to $50 admission for an evening spent on the business end of a cat o' nine tails wielded by a “sexy girl in latex and high heels” (Paul's personal preference).

Yes, when the gregarious bachelor around the block turns out to be a self-proclaimed Pimp Daddy, selling VIP tickets that entitle holders to mingle and share a jacuzzi with the “hottest ho's in the Capital,” the respectable citizens e-mail their elected officials. Professor Pindell, in keeping with his status as a respectable academic focused intently on his chosen subject matter, kept his commentary brief, and centered on the use of zoning laws to address this objectionable behavior. I feel no compunction about exploring a bit further, as other legal issues abound. For example:

This Washington Post article (which is worth reading in its entirety), demonstrates that Pickthorne is up on his search and seizure law; when the police came a-knockin', Lucky Paul refused to allow them entrance to his castle. He was quoted as saying, “Just because I'm British doesn't mean I don't understand the Fourth Amendment.” Dolly Mapp would be proud.

The rules for Paul's parties, posted on his Web site, provide evidence that Pickthorne is cognizant that certain activities might provide the long arm of the law with an excuse to cross the threshold into his dungeon: “No illegal drugs at the party. Yes, that includes weed. It just puts us at too much of a risk with law enforcement.”

Paul's rules, however, warn guests that he isn't above calling the fuzz himself on any who might decide to “restock [their] toybag[s]” with the supplies he provides for party use. In fact, one might wonder whether Paul's occasional alliance with the police might run deeper. Could his “selflessly serving the community by disciplining naughty girls wherever he finds them” be considered state action for purposes of a §1983 claim?

In any event, as far as the zoning issues go, it appears that Pickthorne has chosen to cease charging admission to his parties to avoid further hassles. His Web site now discloses that the events are “for personal friends only and are not commercial.” And who are the people fortunate enough to be considered Paul's personal friends? According to confirmed FOP Susan Wright, founder of the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, they are likely to include a disproportionately high number of lawyers. So next time you see a partner leave the office for a “long lunch with a client,” take a minute to consider what might be making that litigation bag he or she is carrying so heavy.

Posted by Eric Lipman on February 8, 2010 at 03:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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