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