WASHINGTON The Bush administration said yesterday it would seek to reinstate an indictment against a California pornography business that was charged with violating federal obscenity laws.
Billed as the government’s first big obscenity case in a decade, the 10-count indictment against Extreme Associates Inc. and its owners, Robert Zicari, and his wife, Janet Romano, both of Northridge, Calif., was dismissed last month by U.S. District Judge Gary Lancaster of Pittsburgh.
Lancaster ruled prosecutors overstepped their bounds while trying to block the company’s hard-core movies from children and from adults who did not want to see such material.
The Justice Department said it would appeal the ruling to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. While acknowledging the importance of the constitutional guarantee of free speech, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said selling or distributing obscene materials does not fall within First Amendment protections.
“The Department of Justice remains strongly committed to the investigation and prosecution of adult obscenity cases,” said Gonzales, who pledged during his confirmation hearing to pursue obscenity cases.
If allowed to stand, Lancaster’s ruling would undermine obscenity laws as well as other statutes based on shared views of public morality, including laws against prostitution, bestiality and bigamy, the department said in a statement.
Zicari said he was not surprised by the decision to appeal. “They touted my case for almost a year and a half about this being an important step in kind of stamping out the adult product as we know it,” he said in a telephone interview. “You’d think our government has a lot more things to worry about with the war in Iraq.”
Prosecutors charged Zacari and Romano and their company with distributing videos to Pittsburgh through the mail and over the Internet. Mary Beth Buchanan, the U.S. attorney in Pittsburgh, has said the case was not about banning all sexually explicit materials, just reining in obscenity. Extreme Associates’ productions depict rape and murder, Buchanan 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.”
In his opinion, Lancaster said the company could market and distribute its materials because people had a right to view them in the privacy of their own homes.
Lancaster relied in part on the Supreme Court’s June 2003 ruling that struck down Texas’ ban on gay sex, which it called an unconstitutional violation of privacy.