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“Scathing letter” takes place of litigation when Utah lawyers not optimistic about potential case

Appalled Orem city officials decided to send a letter outlining their complaints to a national clothing chain in Orem’s local mall after a display of t-shirts officials considered too “offensive” showed up in PacSun’s windows, San Jose’s Mercury News online paper reports. Originally considering legal action due to the city’s code prohibiting “explicit sexual material” on public display, officials were dissuaded by Utah lawyers who were decidedly not optimistic about the outcome of such a case.

The “offensive” display in the PacSun store windows consisted t-shirts featuring pictures of scantily-clad models in provocative poses. Judy Cox, a local Orem mother offended by the display was not without resources to have them removed: Cox purchased all of the objectionable t-shirts in the store for a total of $567. She plans to return them later, toward the end of the 60-day return period, but hopes that before then, someone can do something to prevent PacSun from putting them back up in the public’s view. Cox’s purchase came after her own advocacy efforts in speaking with a store manager, who explained that the t-shirts couldn’t be removed without approval from the corporate office.

Cox wasn’t to be put off, and, immediately after her purchase, she demanded action from the city for the code violation. City officials, however, responded to Cox that they wouldn’t take legal action. Working with Utah lawyers, the city officials were able to identify rulings in similar court cases that set precedent for such displays being legal.

With Cox continuing to demand action on behalf of community members, many of whom identified themselves as mothers, Orem’s mayor and most of its City Council instead sent a scathing letter to PacSun with a moral denouncement of its display and a strongly worded request to refrain from such displays in public areas in the future. The letter expressed the representatives’ personal “disapproval of this type of offensive display” to which the children of Orem have visual access. “We value our children,” the letter stated, going on to emphasize the desire to protect them from “this kind of public display.”

Orem, Utah has been called “ultraconservative,” and sustains a population of about 90,000 people. Most residents are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a religious organization that promotes modesty among its youth and has a low tolerance for pornography. Many of the residents support Cox’s cause against these provocative displays, but others are more cautious in expressing their opinions. While Utah lawyers note that “disapproval” of such marketing may not be an issue of legal liability, one City Council member was hesitant to denounce the store’s practices.

Brent Sumner was the lone councilmen who didn’t sign the letter sent by the city. He reportedly agrees with its content; however, he has stated that he opposes government interference in “telling companies how to run their business.”

Aware that Utah lawyers weren’t optimistic about the code violation case, Cox issued a statement thanking the city officials for supporting her cause, and recognizing the unique intersection of legal liability and moral responsibility, said, “This is not an issue of what is available for adult purchase, rather of a corporation marketing and profiting from sexually enticing and explicit material to minors.”

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