updated 7/27/2008 4:45:08 PM ET 2008-07-27T20:45:08

Iowa doesn't have any all-nude strip clubs — but it does have performing arts centers where women dance naked.

However, the loophole in the state's public indecent exposure law that allows nude dancing at "art centers" is under attack in the small community of Hamburg, a town of 1,200 just across the Missouri River from Nebraska.

The case pending before a Fremont County judge affects only one business in Hamburg, but if he agrees with the prosecutor, it could eventually threaten the legal standing of nude dancing clubs across the state.

District Judge Timothy O'Grady heard arguments in a one-day trial on July 17 and took the case under advisement.

Sheriff's niece strips naked
It all began on July 21, 2007, when a 17-year-old niece of Sheriff Steven MacDonald climbed on stage at Shotgun Geniez in Hamburg and stripped off her clothing. Owner Clarence Judy was charged with violating Iowa's public indecent exposure law.

Judy responded that the law doesn't apply to a "theater, concert hall, art center, museum, or similar establishments" devoted to the arts or theatrical performances.

"Dance has been considered one of the arts, as is sculpture, painting and anything else like that. What Clarence has is a club where people can come and perform," said his lawyer, Michael Murphy.

Murphy noted that the club has a gallery selling collectible posters and other art, and it provides patrons with sketch pads.

Nonsense, said Fremont County Attorney Margaret Johnson, an underage girl danced naked at the club, and that's illegal.

"Are you saying that minors can't be protected? Can a group of 12-year-olds come down and go in and dance nude and it's OK? I don't think that's what the Legislature had in mind when it made those additional provisions," Johnson said.

Johnson said the intent of the law is to allow movies in a theater where there's brief nudity or for an art gallery displaying paintings of nudes.

Teen snuck into business
Murphy said Judy bans anyone under 18 from entering the five-year-old business. The problem, he said, was "a group of girls snuck in a 17-year-old."

"While she was there, she felt like dancing so she got up and danced on the stage and then she took her clothes off. Trouble with that is she's the sheriff's niece," he said.

Johnson denied that the teen's relation to the sheriff was connected to the charges filed against Judy.

“Her parents were absolutely appalled with the situation," Johnson said.

The sheriff declined to comment. There was no comment from his niece, whose name wasn't given.

As part of his defense during trial, Murphy cited a 1998 ruling that found nude dancing is a form of art. In that case, the owner of the Southern Comfort Free Threatre for the Performing Arts in Davenport was charged under the public indecent exposure law for allowing nude dancing. A judge found owner not guilty.

The current case deals only with Judy and Shotgun Geniez, but there could be an appeal if either side loses.

Johnson said that would take it to the Iowa Court of Appeals and perhaps the Iowa Supreme Court. That would make it a statewide case that could affect dozens of other clubs in the state.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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