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Stagliano Decision a Good Argument for Feds to Stop the Nonsense; Hear Stagliano’s Comments

from – One of the nation’s leading producers of X-rated videos, John Stagliano, was acquitted on federal obscenity charges Friday afternoon after a series of stumbles by the prosecution.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon ordered the acquittal of Stagliano and two companies related to his Evil Angel studio on a defense motion before the defense presented any rebuttal to several days of evidence from the Justice Department. Leon called the government’s case “woefully lacking” or “woefully inadequate,” depending on whose account you follow.

Leon, an appointee of President George W. Bush, ruled against the defense on a series of pretrial motions, including some seeking dismissal of the rare federal obscenity indictment on First Amendment grounds. However, once the trial got underway, Leon seemed to have little patience for prosecution flubs. A balky video recording led to dismissal of one count regarding a video trailer. Then a comment on the witness stand from an FBI agent about the judge allegedly giving advice to the prosecution led to a prosecutor having to issue an affidavit saying the statement never occurred.

Ultimately, Leon ruled there wasn’t enough evidence to send the case to the jury. He gave the defense a win not on Constitutional grounds but on what he viewed as a basic failure to prove the involvement of Stagliano or his companies in the production and sale to an undercover FBI agent of the films in question. The judge’s ruling cannot be appealed.

Why it matters: Recent Democratic administrations haven’t been big fans of obscenity cases, preferring instead to work on child pornography prosecutions. The Bush administration was eventually cajoled into setting up the Obscenity Prosecution Task Force, which brought a handful of cases against purveyors of what the government viewed as “extreme” pornography. No such case has been newly filed since President Barack Obama took office, but the Justice Department and Attorney General Eric Holder allowed the prosecutions still underway to continue.

Stagliano was arguably the most mainstream of the porn producers to face prosecution. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has been pressing Holder to keep the obscenity task force running and to allow it to prosecute big-business pornographers and not just fringe players. The stumbles in the Stagliano case and its ultimate failure may or may not reflect the broader practicality of obscenity prosecutions in the Internet-era. Indeed, the Justice Department did score one high-profile win in this area with some guilty pleas just after Obama took office in the so-called Extreme Associates case. But Stagliano’s acquittal will probably give top Justice Department lawyers skeptical of such efforts cover to wind down the obscenity work on practical grounds

Random note: The Libertarian Party attacked the prosecution earlier this week, calling the case a “travesty.” The Libertarians also noted that Stagliano has been a significant donor to their cause.

A brief interview defendant John Stagliano gave to the libertarian Reason magazine:


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