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Judge Rules Baring Breasts Not a Constitutional Right

December 14, 1989

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) _ Nine women who bared their breasts on a city beach last summer were not covered by the Constitution, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Rochester City Court Judge John Manning Regan refused to dismiss the charges, saying the women violated a state law that prohibits public breast exposure. He also found them guilty and fined them.

Defense attorneys argued during a trial this fall that the law is ″a badge of inequality″ and a violation of the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal protection under the law.

They asked Regan to declare the law unconstitutional and he gave them time to present written arguments before making his ruling.

The prosecutor argued that the law is constitutional and conforms to community standards.

The women were arrested in June for removing their tops on a Rochester beach. Charges were dropped against a 10th because she was nursing her child, which is exempt from the state law. Exposure carries a maximum penalty of 15 days in jail and a $250 fine.

″It was very disappointing to have his ruling against us. I see it as a crushing blow against equal rights for women,″ said defendant Mary Lou Schloss.

Seven women - then known as the Topfree Seven - were charged with indecent exposure in 1986 after they removed their shirts in Rochester’s Cobbs Hill Park. Those charges were dismissed by a judge who called it an issue of free speech.

Three women who were arrested in both cases were given $100 fines Wednesday: Schloss, 41; Kathleen Reilly, 43; and Ramona Santorelli, 31, all of Rochester.

Six other defendants were either fined $50 or ordered to do community service: Gail Nieser, 25; Sarah Wells, 41; Susan David, 35; and Nina Leibowitz, 21, all of Rochester, along with Lyn Gallo, 29, of Ithaca and Marilyn Hiller, 61, of Brevard, N.C.

The women were also given criminal discharges, meaning another arrest for a defendant within a year could reopen the charges against her.

Regan dismissed charges against Tierney O’Brien-Dovan, 31, who was nursing her child.

During sentencing, some of the women said they would continue to go shirtless.

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