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Church and State

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd's mission from God to eliminate obscenity knows no bounds

Photo: , License: N/A, Created: 2011:02:15 00:13:16

Judd's campaign against obscenity was not limited to the people who sold adult material - it also pursued the people who consumed it. In 1996, Polk deputies came to the Video Xtra, a mom-and-pop video store with an adult section, and seized a computer that contained the personal information of hundreds of customers. It was one of Lawrence Walters' first cases involving the Polk County Sheriff's Office. He filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of 256 people, charging that the sheriff's office violated the federal Video Privacy Protection Act.

It was but a minor snag in Judd's otherwise smooth operation - Walters dropped his case when the sheriff's office dropped its prosecutions, but that didn't stop Judd from pushing forward with his war on filth.

"The Purge," as Lirot calls it, ended officially on June 30, 2002, when the Varsity Adult Bookstore, the last remaining adult business in Polk County, closed down. By then, Judd was a colonel of administration and one of the sheriff's right-hand men. He stood with some members of the vice squad in the Varsity parking lot that night to make sure the business closed on time. The next day he posed in front of the building, stripped of its signage, for a picture. "Quite frankly, it was an honor and a privilege to put them out of business," Judd says.

To Grady Judd, the campaign was necessary for the good of the county. He attributes Polk County's 2010 crime rate of 2.97 crimes per 100 residents - an all-time low since the county started keeping statistics in 1971 - partly to the lack of adult businesses. "Traditionally, any time you have those types of establishments, you'll see a decrease in property value and an increase in the crime rate," he says.

Perhaps most importantly, Judd and the State Attorney's Office ensured that such businesses could never return. Part of almost every plea deal involved a deed restriction on the property that barred a similar business from taking its place. It was a clever tactic, one of the reasons Lirot says that even if he disagrees with him, he respects Judd.

"If you look at it from the standpoint of The Art of War, he achieves his goals," Lirot says. "You annihilate your enemy."

The last traces of even mildly adult material in any Polk County business were eliminated in 2004, when stores featuring "Playmate" videos - ones featuring an individual female, usually only topless - began getting visits from Polk County deputies who threatened racketeering and obscenity charges. Considering the tepid nature of the videos, Lirot thought a lawsuit against the Polk County Sheriff's Office would be easy to win. But no one took him up on his offer to represent them in such a case.

"They didn't even want free legal representation, they were so frightened," Lirot says. "Obviously, the chilling effect was in the wind."

Grady Judd looks out upon a spacious ballroom where more than 100 of his fans have gathered. They hang on his every word. On this bleak January day, his audience is the retirement community of Lake Ashton, and the topic is Phillip Greaves.

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