- This Week
Can a woman's touch at the top help change San Francisco's sex industry?
05.18.10 - 8:22 pm | Sarah Phelan |
Meta Jane Mitchell Johnson and brother Justin Mitchell (left) now run the Mitchell Brothers O'Farrell TheaterGUARDIAN PHOTO BY CHARLES RUSSO
Meanwhile dancers say there is still pressure to do more than just dance in some clubs. "For some dancers, the clubs feel fine," Lorelei says. "It's a safe space where no ads are needed. They see it as a fair exchange. But if you just want to dance — when one girl is doing this, and another that, how are you supposed to make money?"
Other dancers wish managers wouldn't abuse their power. "Sometimes they back you up," Amber said. "Other nights, someone insults you and they won't help." And many wish management would try to make the clubs fun again.
"It used to be a party, but now it's about the cheapest dirtiest fuck you can get," Lorelei said. "Taking stage fees created a dark environment that carries over to the customers. It's like we're goats in a petting zoo begging, saying give me money, give me coke."
Attorney Jim Quadra, who represented the dancers in the MBOT class action suit, said that for all the talk about treating dancers right, the Mitchells' interest was money.
"At the time, a group of people thought the agenda was to get dancers to do more than dancing because that's what brings in the revenue," Quadra said. "But Meta comes off much better than the rest of her family."
During the trial, Jim was asked if there were meetings where Cinema 7 personnel defined what they meant by a "lap dance" in the piece rate system.
"You need a lap for a lap dance," Mitchell replied. "You are getting down to like, you know, lap dance, erotic theater, America. And your question is like just a waste of the public's slender resources, like drop[ping] a basketball in the ghetto and asking, 'Did you define what that is for them?'<0x2009>"
Johnson, who voluntarily took the witness stand, was asked if there was any reason dancers would be afraid of her father. "He can be a little gruff and he can be cranky, a grouchy old man," she replied.
Today Johnson is moving ahead with a vision she began to outline in 2007, then put on hold until December 2009, when a law suit about the family trust fund was settled.
"We settled everything out of court in December with my grandmother, which was a nice Christmas present," she says, confirming that she and her siblings succeeded in removing their 83-year grandmother, Georgia Mae Mitchell, as trustee of the Jim Mitchell family fund. They replaced her with their mother, Jim Mitchell's ex-wife, Mary Jane Whitty-Grimm, who also has custody of James's baby daughter, Samantha.
"Danielle's mother has some personal problems ... that made the court reluctant to give her custody of the baby. so they gave Samantha to Mary, who is a nice woman, who is married with a family," former San Francisco D.A. Terence Hallinan told me, after James Mitchell replaced him with another private criminal defense attorney, Douglas Horngrad, in March.
In court filings related to the family trust fund, Mitchell matriarch Georgia Mae claimed her grandchildren's lawsuit was intended to deny her jailed grandson James his share of the trust to defend against his serious felony charges.
"Justin asked me to take money out of the trust account of his brother James, and send it to his mother instead of paying his criminal defense attorney, Terence Hallinan," the Mitchell matriarch claimed.
I asked Hallinan if the trust fund was the reason James Mitchell changed attorneys. "Yes and no," Hallinan said. "It definitely had to do with money and who was going to run the club. The poor grandma, she is such a nice person. She was trying to play fair and be nice to all the kids. It's not a really healthy family. 'Rafe' [James] is where he is. In my opinion, he is still not clear what happened or why."