1983-en, English, Photography

The unusual photo of a courtroom that made it to Playboy pages

In 1983, a peculiar moment captured in a Pinellas County courtroom became a media sensation and later, part of the legacy of the iconic magazine Playboy. The photo, which shows an exotic dancer leaning over in front of a judge to prove that her attire did not violate any rules, became a symbol of the relationship between justice and freedom of expression.

This article will delve into the history behind this surprising image and how it ended up in the pages of Playboy, as well as the context in which the trial of exotic dancers took place in Pinellas County. Join us on this fascinating journey through the world of justice, photography, and journalism in an era when the boundaries between public and private were beginning to blur.

The trial and anti-nudity ordinance

In 1983, Pinellas County, Florida became the setting for an unusual trial in which three exotic dancers were accused of violating the county’s anti-nudity ordinance. The ordinance aimed to restrict the exposure of intimate body parts in public and private establishments, in order to protect morality and public order.

The three dancers, who worked at a local nightclub, were arrested and brought to trial after being accused by undercover officers of showing more than what was allowed by law during their performances. The dancers’ defense argued that their attire did not violate the ordinance in question and therefore should not be penalized.

Judge David Demers, who presided over the trial, faced the difficult task of determining whether the attire of the exotic dancers violated the anti-nudity ordinance. To do so, he had to carefully examine the type of clothing worn by the dancers and decide whether they exposed anatomical parts prohibited by law.

The moment captured in the photo

During the trial, an unusual and decisive moment occurred when one of the dancers decided to take bold action to prove her point. With the judge’s permission, the dancer leaned over in front of the bench to show that her attire did not expose any intimate body parts prohibited by the ordinance. This act, which turned out to be an iconic moment in the case, was captured by Tampa Bay Times photographer Jim Damaske, who was present in the courtroom.

The photograph, which shows the dancer leaning over in front of Judge Demers, quickly became a topic of conversation in the media and the general public. The image perfectly captured the tension between freedom of expression and legal restrictions at a time when American society was debating the boundaries of public and private.

Damaske’s photo gained notoriety and was published in numerous media outlets across the country, generating great interest in the case and Pinellas County’s anti-nudity ordinance. The impact of the image was such that it even made its way into the pages of the famous Playboy magazine, bringing the story to an even wider audience and securing its place in popular culture.

The photo in Playboy and other media

The iconic photo captured by Jim Damaske not only drew the attention of local media but also attracted the interest of renowned national and international publications. The image was included in the “The Year in Sex” section of Playboy, an annual compilation of the most noteworthy and controversial moments related to sexuality and culture during that year. The photo’s appearance in such a prestigious and influential magazine as Playboy further increased its notoriety and helped solidify its status as a symbol of the tension between morality, law, and freedom of expression.

In addition to Playboy, the photograph was also recognized in the field of photojournalism, appearing in the publication “Best of Photojournalism, 9: Newspaper and Magazine Pictures of the Year” by the National Press Photographers Association. This recognition highlights the technical and artistic quality of the image and the importance of capturing historical moments in time.

Ken Kobre, a renowned photojournalist and author, also included the image in his successful book “Photojournalism: The Professionals’ Approach,” a reference work in the field of photojournalism that has been used by students and professionals around the world for many years.

The photograph transcended borders and was featured as a two-page spread in the prestigious German news weekly magazine, Der Stern. This demonstrates the interest that the image and the story behind it aroused, even in other countries and cultures.

In summary, the Pinellas County courtroom photo not only achieved fame in the United States but also captured the attention of media and publications worldwide, becoming a lasting symbol of a unique moment in the history of justice and popular culture.

Legacy and Repercussions

The impact and legacy of the photo on Judge David Demers’ career are undeniable. Although he was an experienced judge at the time, this particular case and the photo associated with it gave him unprecedented visibility. The image became a symbol of how courts can handle unusual situations and how judges must maintain objectivity and impartiality at all times, even in unconventional circumstances.

The photo and the story behind it also served as a reminder that justice is not always a serious and solemn matter, and that sometimes it can involve peculiar and even comical situations. In addition, the case highlighted the importance of debate around freedom of expression and the limits that the law must impose on issues of morality and public decency.

The inclusion of the photograph in Craig Pittman’s upcoming book, “Oh, Florida! Inside America’s strangest state and how it’s shaping the country,” is further proof of the relevance and lasting impact of the image. The book explores the peculiarities and singularities of the state of Florida and how these have influenced the culture and politics of the country. The presence of the photo in this work highlights the importance of this particular case and how the trial and image continue to be remembered and debated even decades later.

In summary, the Pinellas County courtroom photo not only left an indelible mark on Judge David Demers’ career but also became a lasting symbol of a historic moment in the relationship between justice, culture, and freedom of expression in the United States.


The story behind the photo taken in a Pinellas County courtroom in 1983 is a fascinating example of how an unusual moment can become a lasting symbol in popular culture. The image, which captures an exotic dancer leaning in front of a judge to prove that her outfit did not violate the anti-nudity ordinance, quickly became a topic of conversation and debate around freedom of expression and legal and moral limits in society.

The photo not only impacted Judge David Demers’ career but also became a reference in the world of photojournalism, appearing in prestigious publications such as Playboy, ‘Best of Photojournalism,’ and Der Stern magazine, among others. This global recognition highlights the relevance and interest that the image and the story behind it have aroused in different cultures and countries.

Years later, this incident is still remembered and commented on, demonstrating that peculiar and controversial situations can leave an indelible mark on collective memory. The story of the Pinellas County courtroom photo reminds us how justice can face unexpected situations and how judges, as guarantors of law and equity, must be prepared to address cases of the most diverse nature.

Ultimately, this photo and its underlying story are a testament to the complexity and richness of the human experience, both in the legal and cultural spheres. The fact that we are still talking about this case decades later illustrates the power of an image to capture a moment in time and become a lasting symbol of an era and its debates.