Updated July 14
Judge Richard Leon of federal district court in Washington had a warning: anybody under 18 had to leave the courtroom immediately. Several court security officers checked IDs. Outside the courtroom, on the sixth floor of the trial court in downtown, there was a cadre of officers guarding the door.
Today marked the opening of the government’s obscenity case against adult film producer John Stagliano and two of his companies, including Evil Angel Productions Inc. Stagliano was indicted in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in 2008 on charges of producing two films that prosecutors allege have no artistic and scientific value.
The prosecution, the first obscenity case in Washington in more than 20 years, according to DOJ statistics, drew a crowd that included at least one adult movie director and one actress, Aurora Snow, who is writing about the case from a performer’s perspective. Law clerks and interns made up a portion of the audience.
Little is known about the jurors—eight women and six men, including two alternates—who must apply the “community standard” of Washington to decide whether Stagliano’s videos appeal to the "prurient interest." The jurors are also tasked with assessing whether the movies lack serious artistic or scientific value.
Leon conducted jury selection behind closed doors, and the judge has not allowed the public to see the jury questionnaire that prospective panelists filled out last week. Justice Department lawyers and attorneys for Stagliano debated the substance of the questions. Leon has described the questionnaire as “sensitive.” Pamela Satterfield, a Criminal Division trial attorney, said in court one of the questions was “way too detailed.”
This afternoon, the government showed the jurors a 50-minute clip of one of the two movies that are the centerpiece of the prosecution. The clip from a three-hour movie called “Jay Sin’s Milk Nymphos,” was displayed on two flat screen TVs, each facing the jurors from the opposite sides of the jury box.
The public could see only one screen, and some seats had better angles than others. There was no audio in the courtroom. The room was silent save for shuffling papers and air blowing through a duct.
Leon kept tight control, giving jurors headsets. He allowed two headsets to be used by the press. Leon said in court, before the movies were played, he was taking a “highly unusual step” in giving headsets to journalists who are covering the trial. He encouraged the press to share the headsets. Reporters did just that.
As the movie played, jurors for the most part kept their eyes trained on the screens. There was very little note-taking during the playing of the movie. Jurors kept their headsets on.
Leon today ruled that the defense attorneys will not be allowed to play the videos in their entirety, as the defense lawyers had asked. Last week, the judge ruled that Stagliano’s lawyers will not be allowed to call a medical expert and a film expert to testify about the scientific and artistic value of the movies.
In court, Stagliano was sitting between defense attorneys H. Louis Sirkin, lead counsel for John Stagliano Inc. and Paul Cambria Jr., lead counsel for Stagliano. A solo practitioner, Allan Gelbard, represents Evil Angel Productions. Davis Wright Tremaine partner Robert Corn-Revere is local counsel.
In opening statements earlier today, Cambria urged jurors to look at the world of 2010 and not the world of 1955. “Things have changed,” he said. When considering the so-called “community standard,” Cambria of Buffalo's Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria played up the fact the District is a diverse community.
Stagliano, an outspoken critic of government prosecution of obscenity cases, faces up to 32 years in prison if he is convicted on all seven counts. Trial resumes Wednesday.
Staff writer Julio Menache contributed to this report.