Federal Magistrate Judge in North Carolina Rules in Favor of Woman Accused of "Dirty Dancing"

June 20, 2003 12:00 am

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RALEIGH, NC-The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina today welcomed the decision of a federal magistrate judge that city officials in the town of Marshall cannot deny a local woman entrance to a weekly town dance because they deem her dance moves inappropriate.

“”It is of great importance that local governments understand that they cannot ban citizens from public places without due process of law, simply because they don’t like their demeanor,”” said Patricia Camp, Executive Director of the ACLU of North Carolina. “”In this case, the Depot Committee and the Mayor acted as though they were the Harper Valley PTA.””

The lawsuit, Rebecca Willis v. Town of Marshall, was filed last year on behalf of 58-year-old Rebecca Willis, who had been banned from attending dances at the Marshall Depot, a refurbished train depot where local bands go to play music on Friday nights.

“”When I found out about my rights and how they work I said, ‘I’m an American citizen, I’m going to stand up for my rights,'”” said Rebecca Willis, the accused “”dirty dancer.”” “”So what if I have a different style of dancing from everyone else-I just hear the music and start moving.””

According to the ACLU’s lawsuit, Willis received a letter dated December 12, 2000 from John Dodson, Mayor of the Town of Marshall, in which he cited her provocative dancing and inappropriate behavior as reasons for banning her from the Marshall Depot. The letter also stated that Willis would be subject to arrest if she chose to ignore the ban.

“”Without any hearing and citing no legal authority, Willis was banned from the Marshall Depot,”” said Jon Sasser, a Raleigh lawyer who is representing Willis on behalf of the ACLU of North Carolina. “”What she got was a letter from the mayor saying ‘You can’t come back anymore,’ and that’s just not the way we do things in America.””

U.S. Magistrate Judge Max O. Cogburn, Jr. today held that Willis should be immediately allowed to return to the Marshall Depot and denied the town’s motion to dismiss the case. The decision is now subject to review by a federal district court judge.

“”It is a shame that the Town of Marshall has not yet agreed to allow Ms. Willis back to the Depot in light of the judge’s decision,”” said Seth Jaffe, Managing Attorney of the ACLU of North Carolina. “”We hope the town will come to its senses and allow her to dance. All she wants to do is dance.””

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