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Report: Smut-case judge posted explicit images

Obscenity or Art
Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals gestures in this Sept. 22, 2003, photo in San Francisco.Paul Sakuma / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

A federal judge suspended the obscenity trial of a Los Angeles porn distributor Wednesday following a newspaper report that the judge had sexually explicit material on his own Web site.

Judge Alex Kozinski on Wednesday granted a joint motion to suspend the trial after the prosecution said it needed time to look into the issue of the judge's Web site.

The judge told the jury to return on Monday. The panel spent hours at the Pasadena offices of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals watching videos depicting bestiality and extreme fetishes.

Kozinski is chief justice of the 9th Circuit but is serving as a trial judge in the obscenity case.  Kozinski said he thought the material on his Web site couldn't be seen by the public, the Los Angeles Times reported on its Web site. The images included a video of a "half-dressed man cavorting with a sexually aroused farm animal," the newspaper reported.

Kozinski, who has since blocked public access to the site, said he didn't believe the images were obscene.

"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 revelation about Kozinski came as opening statements were under way in the trial of Ira Isaacs, a businessman accused of breaking U.S. obscenity laws by distributing pornographic movies that depict extreme fetishes, including bestiality.

Kozinski, 57, was assigned to oversee the trial in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles under a program in which appellate judges occasionally handle criminal trials at the district court level.

"I have no comment on the merits of the story," Kozinski told trial attorneys, without jurors present, when they reconvened Wednesday afternoon at a 9th Circuit courthouse conference room in Pasadena.

Kozinski said he would consider any motion if either side wanted to take him off the case.

"I'm very sorry I didn't know about this before the jury was sworn," the judge said.

Isaacs' attorney, Roger Jon Diamond, told the judge he opposes recusal.

Prosecutors exploring options
The prosecutor, Department of Justice lawyer Kenneth Whitted, said the government was conferring internally about its options. He said he would have an answer about recusal by Thursday.

Cathy Catterson, circuit executive for the 9th Circuit, declined to comment on whether Kozinski would recuse himself from the obscenity trial.

"It's a private matter of the judge at this point," she said.

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," she 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, the judge's son 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 a photo of naked women on all fours painted to look like cows, which he called "degrading," the newspaper 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.

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

"He should do the right thing and step down," Rosenbluth 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 the site was blocked, visitors to saw a message: "Ain't nothin' here. Y'all best be movin' on, compadre." Visitors who knew about a subdirectory could see the sexually explicit materials, as well as some of Kozinski's legal writings and personal photos, the Times said.

Jurors in the Isaacs case will be asked to decide whether the films he distributed are obscene under federal law.

They must 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. Two of the original six counts in his indictment were dropped.