September 2014 - Word Power, European Styleby Justice William W. Bedsworth

I love words.

No surprise there. I’ve been an appellate lawyer most of my life,1 and trying to do that job without a love for words is like trying to be a card sharp without opposable thumbs.

So when I come across a word I don’t know, I’m always intrigued. Especially now. Hell, I’m almost sixty-seven years old; I’ve come across a lot of words by now. New ones are as rare as short briefs.

So when I read: “A car bomb was defused in a megabrothel’s parking lot . . .” I did not get past “lot.” I spun around like an Irish Setter who has just walked past a sausage. A new and unfamiliar sausage, but clearly a sausage.

Megabrothel? Whoa, boy, back that sucker up and let’s take another look at this one.

I mean, I know a brothel is not where you buy broth. And I know “Mega” usually denotes either a creatively bankrupt marketing department or something actually larger than the norm. So, in an exercise of judicial cerebration of the level most attorneys have come to expect of me, I concluded this is a larger than average brothel.2

But I don’t have any actual experience with brothels,3 so I didn’t know just how big larger than the norm would be. Allow me to provide for you here the rest of the sentence—the part after “lot” that enlightened me on this point:

“A car bomb was defused in a megabrothel’s parking lot in northeast Spain early Monday and 300 people were evacuated from the site, the Interior Ministry said.”

Three hundred people were evacuated. 

Obviously Spain is light years ahead of us Americans when it comes to brothel-envy. The famous Mustang Ranch, which bills itself as “The Premier Brothel of Northern Nevada,” employs less than thirty . . . um . . . er . . . key employees. Flushing 300 people out of the Mustang Ranch would make it look like a clown car.

And Nevada is our foremost producer of brothels. As far as I know, it’s our only producer of brothels.4 If the Mustang Ranch is our flagship, our bordello flotilla is lagging far behind the rest of the fleet.

Not our fault, really. We lag behind in this area primarily because of legislation like California Penal Code section 315: “Every person who keeps a house of ill-fame in this state, resorted to for the purposes of prostitution or lewdness, or who willfully resides in such house, is guilty of a misdemeanor; and in all prosecutions for keeping or resorting to such a house common repute may be received as competent evidence of the character of the house, the purpose for which it is kept or used, and the character of the women inhabiting or resorting to it.”

So we not only make it illegal to maintain a brothel, we create a special rule of evidence to allow hearsay to prove the case against people who do. We don’t even do that for murderers.

That sort of thing tends to stunt an industry’s growth.

But in Spain, such establishments are not only legal, they grow to a size that would make Godzilla blush. And they produce news stories that read like bad cable TV scripts. Here’s how the Associated Press followed up that lead sentence I quoted to you:

A security guard at Paradise,5 one of Spain’s largest legal brothels,6 called police late Sunday in La Jonquera, which is on the border with France, after masked men sped up to the brothel in two cars.

A man got out of one vehicle brandishing a weapon and shouted he was leaving behind a car with a bomb in the back. He then sped off with four other people in a second high-performance vehicle.

How is it I haven’t seen this movie? This is Fast and Furious with women in garter belts.

It gets better. “A regional ministry spokesman said it took a bomb squad several hours to deactivate the device,7 but did not provide details of the size or weight of the explosives found. He spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with ministry rules.”

“He spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with ministry rules???” The regional ministry requires anyone talking about the megabrothel to speak anonymously? This is definitely a different approach than ours.

I dare say anonymity is highly valued by those in this business. Witness the next sentences of the AP story:

Paradise employs around 200 sex workers and was inaugurated [two months earlier] near the Spanish end of a tunnel under the Pyrenees Mountains linking the two countries after years of disputes and stoppages of construction. 
The establishment is well known in the area for offering private entrances to guests seeking secrecy, attracting Spanish and French clientele.
So let’s review. This place is roughly six times as big as the largest American brothel, was set up just across the border from France—where brothels are illegal—and provides private entrances for its clientele. Its opening was delayed for years because of disputes and construction delays. Talk about pent up . . . demand.

And now, “Local media reported a previous attack earlier this month when two small explosive devices—one of which exploded—were thrown at it from a car, and many of the town’s 3,000 residents think the bombs are evidence of gangs involved in a turf war.”
Really? Ya think?

This place is in a town of 3000 souls, of which at least 200 are what the Europeans call “sex workers,” a term resisted in this country with the same fervor with which the term “megabrothel” would be resisted. I think we can safely assume the sex workers outnumber the law enforcement workers in La Jonquera by an order of magnitude or two.

Furthermore, the megabrothel in this jurisdiction is within rock-throwing distance of a nation of 66 million inhabitants where such establishments are illegal. There is a tunnel to bring you from that nation to Paradise. And even after a bomb exploded there only weeks earlier, the place was packed.

In short, this place is a license to print money. Of course there are gangs fighting over it. Hell, if they could speak Spanish, the 67th Street Crips would be there, wrapped in blue bandanas, tossing bombs of their own, and trying to figure out paella.

And here we are, completely unable to identify with any of this.8 Yeah, we had our horizons broadened a little by the World Cup, but I can’t imagine Americans going to a brothel we know to be the object of fortnightly bombings, any more than I can imagine us ever completely embracing a game that doesn’t require spending trash bags full of money on equipment.

So this is an area of the law whose development we probably won’t be contributing to much. But that doesn’t mean we can’t follow it closely. Public spirited soul that I am, I will keep an eye on European megabrothel law. As Rachel Maddow and Arte Moreno would say, “Watch this space.”


  1. Even my ten years on the trial bench included a stint on the appellate department calendar. My first published opinion was an appellate department case called People v. Marsh, 8 Cal. App. 4th (1992), in which I made the world safe for left-turning motorists.
  2. Please hold your applause.
  3. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
  4. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
  5. Remember my column about the guy who jumped out the window of the adult theater in San Francisco and landed on a plaintiff? What was the name of the adult theater? That’s right . . . Heaven. I think I’m beginning to see a pattern here.
  6. Not the largest, mind you . . . just one of the largest. This isn’t the brothel Disney World, it’s just Six Flags or Legoland.
  7. I’ll just bet it did. And for safety’s sake, they’ll probably need to come back often and make sure they didn’t miss anything.
  8. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

William W. Bedsworth is an Associate Justice of the California Court of Appeal. He writes this column to get it out of his system. He can be contacted at william.bedsworth@jud.ca.gov.