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State files motion to dismiss lawsuit that would end legal brothels

Jackie Valley
Jackie Valley
The Moonlite Bunny Ranch in Mound House, Nevada

The attorney general filed a motion last week to dismiss a lawsuit that seeks to end Nevada’s decades-old legal brothel industry, rejecting the notion that it creates a conflict between state and federal law.

A woman named Rebekah Charleston who says she was sex trafficked through Nevada brothels filed the federal lawsuit in February. The complaint — which names the state, the Legislature and Gov. Steve Sisolak as defendants — argues that legalized prostitution in rural counties contradicts two federal laws that criminalize human trafficking across state lines for the purpose of commercial sex acts.

The lawsuit was amended last month to add two more plaintiffs, Angela Delgado-Williams and Leah Albright-Byrd, who live in Texas but say they were sex trafficked in Nevada.

Attorney General Aaron Ford filed a 17-page motion to dismiss the case April 3 in federal district court in Reno.

“People of good intentions can disagree as a policy matter whether prostitution should be criminalized; however, such policy debates are reserved for the legislative chamber rather than the courts,” Ford wrote. “There is no conflict between federal law and Nevada law here because federal law does not criminalize prostitution and both Nevada law and federal law criminalize sex trafficking whereever it occurs in Nevada.”

Reno-based attorney Jason Guinasso, who’s representing the plaintiffs, said the court set an April 17 deadline for any opposition to the state’s motion. He doesn’t anticipate the court making a decision until the end of May.

Last month, Storey County Commissioner Lance Gilman — who owns the Mustang Ranch brothel and is a developer of the Reno Tahoe Industrial Center — filed a motion to intervene as a defendant in the lawsuit. The court has not yet ruled whether he can become a defendant.

The legal case isn’t the only effort underway to outlaw brothels, which are legal in Nevada’s rural counties. Senate Bill 413, sponsored by Sen. Joe Hardy, would ban prostitution by eliminating language in state law that allows counties other than Clark County to authorize brothels. The bill remains in committee. Sen. Pat Spearman previously sponsored the bill, but last week on the Senate floor she asked for her name to be removed but didn't say why. 

Democratic Assemblywoman Lesley Cohen also introduced a separate measure, Assembly Concurrent Resolution 6, that would require a study on the workplace conditions inside Nevada’s legal brothels


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