City of Atlanta hires anti-gay attorney to fight Tokyo Valentino

The attorney representing the City of Atlanta in its efforts to shut down Tokyo Valentino has fought against marriage equality and transgender rights, and he’s received over $200,000 from a notorious anti-LGBTQ group.

Scott Bergthold has spent his career trying to shut down sexually-oriented businesses across the country. He’ll be in federal court in Atlanta on Wednesday arguing against Tokyo Valentino (top photo), the self-proclaimed “adult superstore” on Cheshire Bridge Road. It's the latest chapter in a two-decade legal fight between the city and the store with a sizable gay customer base.

Bergthold’s legal record and his longtime affiliation with anti-LGBTQ groups led elected officials in other cities to try and remove him from their payroll. Four members of the city council in Dallas, Texas, objected to Bergthold defending the city against a porn convention’s lawsuit in 2016.

City Councilmember Mark Clayton objected to Bergthold’s “history of working against LGBTQ causes,” according to the Dallas Observer.

"If this guy was an Aryan leader, we'd be having a totally different conversation," Clayton said, "But because he doesn't like gay people, we are where we are."

City Councilmember Philip Kingston said Bergthold was cultivating a “sham legal relationship with the city as a means to his own ends,” according to the Observer.

The council voted to keep Bergthold on the case.

In metro Atlanta, Bergthold has also represented the cities of Doraville and Brookhaven in cases against sexually-oriented businesses.

'The tangible effects of moral decay'

 

Bergthold has been affiliated with anti-LGBTQ forces his entire career.

He received his law degree from Regent University School of Law in 1997, according to LinkedIn. The private Christian school in Virginia Beach, Va., was founded by Pat Robertson, the televangelist with a long anti-LGBTQ history.

In 1999, Bergthold told Christianity Today that as executive director of the National Family Legal Foundation, his focus is on “the tangible effects of moral decay which local governments are quick to recognize.”

Bergthold listed “an increase in crimes, lower property values leading to lower tax revenues, and health and safety issues like the spread of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases” as examples of that moral decay, according to Christianity Today.

Bergthold was hired out of law school and eventually became president of the Community Defense Council, a group that Alliance Defending Freedom lists as a “resource.”

Alliance Defending Freedom has spent decades fighting LGBTQ causes across the world. The group represented the former Atlanta fire chief Kelvin Cochran (second photo), who was fired after writing a book that attacked LGBTQ people. The group also sent one of its attorneys to speak out against trans students at a Fannin County Board of Education meeting in 2016, and has long fought for anti-LGBTQ “religious freedom” legislation in Georgia.

The Southern Poverty Law Center lists Alliance Defending Freedom as a hate group.

Alliance Defending Freedom gave over $213,000 in grants to Bergthold’s law office between 2010 and 2016, according to a Project Q Atlanta review of its tax records. It started with a $10,000 grant in 2011, reached as high as $55,000 in 2012 and 2013, and ended with an $11,000 grant in 2016. The reason for the grants was listed as “general litigation.”

In 2008, Bergthold donated $2,500 in support of Prop 8, the measure to ban same-sex marriage in California, according to Out & About Nashville.

In 2013, Bergthold fought against adding domestic partnership benefits in Chattanooga, Tenn., according to the Chattanoogan. He said sections of the ordinance violated the First Amendment, and it would allow transgender people to use the bathrooms associated with their gender.

“[Bergthold] said if a male city employee who considers himself a female goes into the women's restroom, then a female inside would not be allowed to object,” according to the Chattanoogan. “[City Attorney Wade] Hinton said the ordinance covers those who are transgender.”

Doraville, Brookhaven hired Bergthold

 

Supporters of Tokyo Valentino rallied at Atlanta City Hall in August in support of the store, which has been in a long legal battle with the city. A Fulton County Superior Court judge in 1998 ruled against the city in its move to deny a permit for the business, which was then known as Inserection.

All was quiet between both parties until 2014, when Inserection renovated and rebranded into Tokyo Valentino. The permit application prompted the city to rule that the business's video booths were a code violation and needed to be removed. 

Tokyo Valentino sued the city and its zoning board in 2015, claiming the ordinance was a violation of its Fourth Amendment rights. The city countersued, and both parties moved for summary judgement.

A federal judge denied the store’s constitutional claims in January 2018. Attorneys for the store appealed the decision to the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which will hear oral arguments on Wednesday.

Neither Bergthold nor a spokesperson for the City of Atlanta responded to Project Q’s request for comment about Bergthold’s anti-LGBTQ record. Attorneys for Tokyo Valentino declined to comment on the case. Michael Morrison, Tokyo Valentino’s founder and CEO, did not return calls from Project Q seeking comment.

For six consecutive years, Atlanta has notched a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign's Municipal Equality Index, which scores cities on its protections and treatment of LGBTQ residents, employees and visitors. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (third photo) has been vocal on LGBTQ matters since taking office in 2018. She appointed an LGBTQ liaison and created an LGBTQ advisory board, held a reception at City Hall to celebrate Atlanta Pride, criticized President Donald Trump's transgender erasure and ban on transgender troops, honored the Armorettes, invited a snubbed drag queen to read to children at City Hall and called on the state to ban conversion therapy.

The City of Brookhaven paid Bergthold over $400,000 to defend it in a federal lawsuit over an adult store being able to sell “sexual devices,” according to Reporter Newspapers. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Stardust — which is also owned by Morrison — in 2018, according to the AJC

Bergthold represented the City of Doraville in a long-running dispute with Oasis Goodtime Emporium, an adult entertainment club on Peachtree Industrial Boulevard. The Georgia Supreme Court ruled against Oasis in 2017 in its bid to sell alcohol and provide nude dancing. The case is under appeal in DeKalb County Superior Court, with a hearing scheduled in May. The club continues to sell alcohol and now operates as a burlesque club, according to the club’s website.

A group called Queer Youth for Equality rallied for the establishment of an "LGBTQ Day" at Doraville City Hall in 2016. The group argued the city wouldn’t support the resolution since it hired Bergthold, according to Patch.