• BREAKING NEWS ABC shows live and on-demand -- Download the WATCH ABC app!

Judge's sex photos upend obscenity trial

June 11, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
The chief judge of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday suspended an obscenity trial over which he was presiding after a newspaper reported he had posted sexually explicit photos and videos on his own Web site. "I'm not going to say anything. The trial is ongoing," Judge Alex Kozinski said to a reporter as he left.

Kozinski heads the nation's largest federal appeals court, serving nine western states, the territory of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands commonwealth. He is presiding in the case against a porn movie distributor under a program in which appellate judges are assigned trials at the District Court level.

The defendant, Ira Isaacs, is accused of violating obscenity laws by selling movies depicting bestiality and extreme fetishes involving feces and urination.

Opening statements were under way Wednesday morning when the Los Angeles Times' Web site reported that Kozinski's personal site contained explicit material and that public access to it was blocked after he was interviewed about it Tuesday evening.

Kozinski, 57, told the Times he thought the material, which included a video of a man cavorting with a sexually aroused farm animal and a picture of nude women on all fours painted to look like cows, couldn't be seen by the public. The judge said he didn't believe any of the images were obscene, the Times reported.

"Is it prurient? I don't know what to tell you," he told the newspaper. "I think it's odd and interesting. It's part of life."

The Times also described a wide range of other types of sexual imagery.

"If this is true, this is unacceptable behavior for a federal court judge," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said through a spokesman.

The suspension of the trial came after jurors spent hours at the Pasadena offices of the 9th Circuit watching the video evidence in the obscenity case.

Kozinski granted a joint prosecution and defense motion to postpone the proceedings after the prosecution said it needed time to look into the issue of the judge's Web site. The jury was ordered to return on Monday.

Kozinski indicated to the attorneys he would be willing to recuse himself but noted that the trial had already begun and jurors had already seen two of the graphic movies.

"My personal preference would be to walk away," the judge said. "But here we are, much is at stake. Jurors suffered through this afternoon. We do owe up to go on."

Before the video viewings began, the judge told attorneys he had no comment on "the merits" of the Times' story and said he didn't know about it before the jury was sworn in Tuesday.

The judge told the lawyers he wanted to give them "an opportunity to think about whether they wish to move to disqualify me."

Attorney Roger Jon Diamond, representing defendant Ira Isaacs, said he opposed recusal, but Department of Justice lawyer Kenneth Whitted said the government was conferring internally about its options.

Diamond volunteered to the court that a Beverly Hills attorney, Cyrus Sanai, had recently called him and indicated he had a dispute with the 9th Circuit and knew about the material on the judge's Web site.

"He called me to get my view and I said, 'It's not right, don't do it,"' Diamond said without elaborating on what that attorney planned to do.

Sanai said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press that he informed the newspaper about the pornographic images on the judge's Web site.

Sanai said he discovered the graphic material in December on Kozinski's Web site, which he was monitoring as part of a long-running dispute he has with the 9th Circuit tied to his parents' divorce case. After downloading the files, Sanai said he began contacting reporters at various publications in January in an effort to publicly expose them.

Sanai said he hoped disclosure of the material in the media would bring attention to what he called widespread ethical problems on the 9th Circuit.

The court "refuses to acknowledge the existence of judicial ethics," Sanai said. "I expected people to be shocked and revolted."

Cathy Catterson, circuit executive for the 9th Circuit, told the AP that the issue was "a private matter of the judge at this point."

Catterson said the material was on a home server that was maintained "for use by his family" and that it made up only a "small percentage" of the items, which also included pictures and documents of "personal family interest."

"Most of it was jokes," Catterson said, adding that she had not personally seen the material.

"The contents are a private matter. It was not meant to be accessible by others," Catterson said. "He would have been more careful of the contents had he known what was on it."

Catterson said that after the story broke, one of the judge's sons called Kozinski to say he had been responsible for uploading some of the material onto the computer. However, she could not say how much or what material was involved.

The Times reported that Kozinski said he must have accidentally uploaded the images to his server while trying to upload something else. He also said he would delete some material including the pictures of women as cows, which he called "degrading," the Times said.

Kozinski said he began saving the sexually explicit materials and other items of interest years ago, the Times said.

"People send me stuff like this all the time," he said.

Kozinski became the youngest federal appeals court judge in the nation when he was appointed at age 35 to the bench by former President Ronald Reagan in 1985. He is known as a strong defender of free speech and First Amendment rights.

Before his site was blocked, visitors to http://alex.kozinski.com saw a message: "Ain't nothin' here. Y'all best be movin' on, compadre." Visitors who knew about a subdirectory could see the materials that also included some of Kozinski's legal writings and personal photos, the Times said.

Jean Rosenbluth, a former federal prosecutor and law professor at University of Southern California, said she had not seen the contents on Kozinski's Web site but added the judge should recuse himself to ensure there is no conflict of interest.

If the prosecution moves to recuse Kozinski, "he should do the right thing and step down," Rosenbluth said. "There's such an importance that the public perceive justice be fairly administered."

Jurors in the trial will decide if the films appeal to a loathsome or degrading type of sexual intercourse and whether the sexual conduct is "patently offensive," judging by the community's standards.

Isaacs, 57, is charged with four counts, including importation or transportation of obscene material for sale. He faces a maximum of 20 years in prison. Prosecutors also are seeking forfeiture of assets obtained through his video sales.

 

Click here for more headlines from ABC7 Eyewitness News


Load Comments