Scott Bergthold has a onetrack career. The Chattanooga, Tenn., attorney writes regulations for governments across the country that tighten restrictions on strip clubs and adult bookstores by banning alcohol consumption, nudity and contact between dancers and customers.
Then, when those governments are sued, he is sometimes hired to defend the rules he wrote.
Bergthold is considered one of the nation’s preeminent experts on sexually oriented business law. He has also become a hero to social conservatives who say strip clubs and similar establishments breed prostitution and violent crime.
To the adult entertainment industry, Bergthold is an unreasonable moralist and quickly becoming one of its most potent enemies.
"He’s the absolute poster child for extremist anti-sex in America," said Todd Borowsky, owner of Skin Cabaret in Scottsdale.
In August, Scottsdale hired Bergthold to assist in drafting revisions to its own ordinance regulating strip clubs.
The changes would prohibit liquor sales and consumption, ban nudity and require patrons to remain six feet from strippers.
The revisions are similar to those Bergthold completed for Louisville, Ky., in January, which that city’s council ultimately approved, said Stephen Ott, an assistant to the Louisville council.
However, the regulations have yet to take effect as the adult businesses filed a lawsuit to block the council action.
Bergthold is described as eloquent and intellectually sharp by supporters and detractors.
He declined comment to the Tribune, citing his own policy of not granting interviews unless directed to do so by a client.
After graduating from Pensacola Christian College in 1994, Bergthold enrolled in Regent Law School, which instructs from a Christian world view in Virginia Beach, Va.
He was not always so narrowly focused on strip clubs, said Jim Bakke, a friend and classmate at Regent. At the law school, Bergthold would hold forth on whatever subject was being debated that day.
But, as with most Regent law students, Bergthold also became involved with the American Center for Law and Justice, said Mark Morrell, head of career and alumni services at the school. Pat Robertson, the prominent televangelist, founded the justice center in 1990.
Outlawing strip clubs was not "an obsession with him," Bakke said, but Bergthold became inspired to fight adult businesses at that time.
"It was some time in law school where that kinda captured his attention, because . . . right out of law school he headed into that business," he said.
Bergthold moved quickly. He was hired by the Community Defense Council — an offshoot of the Alliance Defense Fund, a national Christian legal organization based in Scottsdale — before opening his own law office in Tennessee.
Two years after receiving his law degree from Regent, in 1997, Bergthold was profiled by Citizen magazine — published by Focus on the Family — for his fight against adult businesses. Accompanying the article was a photograph of Bergthold holding a can of bug spray and a headline dubbing him "the exterminator."
It is rare for a lawyer to focus his or her practice on just one issue, but in this case it could prove profitable, said Rick Ganulin, an attorney with Cincinnati’s legal office. "So many all around the county, thousands, that potentially deal with this issue that he probably saw it as a lucrative practice area."
Cincinnati hired Bergthold in the late 1990s to assist the city in defending its regulations against a male stripper’s lawsuit, Ganulin said.
Angelina Spence, director of the Association of Club Executives, said she feels Bergthold is a "true believer" in his work.
"He’s trying to save us," said Spencer, an opponent of Bergthold, "which is his prerogative under our Constitution."