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Charges dismissed against California porn business

By The Associated Press
01.25.05

PITTSBURGH — A federal judge dismissed obscenity charges last week against a California pornography business, finding obscenity statutes unconstitutional in the case.

Because people have a right to view such material in the privacy of their own homes, there's a right to market it, U.S. District Judge Gary L. Lancaster said in dismissing the case against Robert Zicari and Janet Romano, both of Northridge, Calif., and their company, Extreme Associates.

Lancaster said prosecutors had overstepped their bounds while trying to block the material from children and from adults who didn't want to see such material inadvertently.

"We find that the federal obscenity statutes burden an individual's fundamental right to possess, read, observe and think about what he chooses in the privacy of his own home by completely banning the distribution of obscene materials," Lancaster wrote, as quoted in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

In finding that the state cannot ban material simply because it finds it objectionable, Lancaster relied on the U.S. Supreme Court's June 2003 ruling in Lawrence v. Texas that struck down a state ban on gay sex. The Supreme Court ruled that the ban was an unconstitutional violation of privacy.

The ruling in the case, which had been closely watch by the adult-entertainment industry, was a blow to the Justice Department's anti-obscenity efforts.

"I think it's a significant victory for freedom and the exercise of our own personal liberties," said H. Louis Sirkin, attorney for the couple and their company. "I know the adult industry is very excited" by the decision, he said.

Sirkin, a Cincinnati lawyer, had also disputed that the materials were obscene, noting that they involved consenting adults.

In a written statement, U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan said prosecutors were "very disappointed" and were reviewing the case and examining options, including a possible appeal.

"As we set forth in the pleadings we filed in the case, we continue to believe that the federal obscenity statutes are valid and constitutional, including as applied in this case," she said.

When she announced the indictment in August 2003, Buchanan said the lack of enforcement of obscenity laws during the mid- to late-1990s "led to a proliferation of obscenity throughout the United States."

Buchanan has maintained that the case was not about banning all sexually explicit materials, just reining in obscenity. Extreme Associates' productions depict rape and murder, she said.

Prosecutors charged the couple and their company with distributing three videos to Pittsburgh through the mail and six images over the Internet.

Investigators didn't just happen upon the videos; they had to join and order them, Sirkin said.

A grand jury was later shown the video and Internet images and found them to be obscene. Pornographers must adhere to the community standards of where products are made and anywhere they might be seen, prosecutors had said.

Free-speech advocates contended prosecutors were trying to find a conservative jury in hopes of securing a conviction. Buchanan denied that assertion.

Sirkin said the community-standards notion was outdated because of growing access to the Internet.

Extreme Associates is still doing business and still offers the movies at issue for sale.


Update
Feds to appeal dismissal of obscenity case
Justice Department to ask 3rd Circuit to reinstate 10-count indictment against California pornography business. 02.17.05

Previous
'Rare' obscenity prosecution signals new crackdown
California couple indicted by federal grand jury for allegedly distributing obscene materials in western Pennsylvania; Justice Department plans stepped-up efforts against 'proliferation of adult obscenity.' 08.09.03

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