Dear sweet Jesus. One would think that the John Stagliano obscenity trial held last week in Washington, D.C. would carry with it a certain amount of gravitas on the part of the government. John “Buttman” Stagliano was to be tried for breaking Federal obscenity laws via internet and mail in two of his movies and one movie trailer, viewable online. The charges leveled were numerous and covered everything from use of the U.S. mail system to violating D.C.’s “community standards” of prurient obscenity, and the subsequent trial was seen largely by the media as the ace up the sleeve of the U.S. government’s belated push against obscene pornographers (the task force assigned to doing away with seedy smut was established by Dubya in 2005, but took a while to get rolling). Paul Little, AKA “Max Hardcore” is already behind bars, and Ira Isaacs was similarly put through the wringer. Stagliano, however, as a larger name in the porn industry and the head of one of the most successful companies in Porn Valley history — Evil Angel — was to be the biggest-horned deer head in the center of the anti-smut brigade’s wall display of de-balled sleazebags.
Frankly, I was nervous. I don’t like the idea that the obscenity laws in question, based on Miller v. California in 1973, are — it has to be said — obscenely vague and apparently easy to apply willy-nilly. The main three criteria the government set forth back then for a jury to legally declare a work obscene are: that “the work depicts/describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable state law”; that, “taken as a whole, [the work in question] lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value”; and that “the average person, applying contemporary community standards would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest.” Hell, if you ask me, most David Lynch films fit nicely into those guidelines — especially the part about serious artistic merit. But alas, it was Buttman who had to bear the brunt of the government’s prudery, and though Stagliano did not direct or perform in any of the movies in question, nor was he directly responsibly for their shipment or display online, he was, alas, a figurehead that would look awfully nice hanging next to Max Hardcore’s pride on the Guvment Wall O’ Filth-mongers.
One would think that the government, in pursuit of such large game, would have devoted some time and energy to the task. Would have prepared a water-tight case (or at least as water-tight as a case persecuting a man who had little to do with the material under examination on flimsy charges can be), paraded out expert witnesses galore, and generally done their best to send this evil example of a film executive from the bowels of boner-bearing hell to prison for a damn long time. They had a whole year and a half to prepare their case, and one would expect them to have used that time wisely! These pornographers must pay for their prurient personal interpretations of artistic and sexual expression, entertainment, and free speech! The rest of us poor, defenseless, US citizens are falling prey to their degraded visions and we’re paying the price of draining our balls to sexually stimulating, sometimes off-the-wall performances by consenting, professional adults! How DARE they? These filthy scumbags deserve to be locked away for years for sending fetish movies across state lines, even if they weren’t the ones who directed, acted in, or mailed those movies. Right? …right?
Well, maybe not. Maybe nobody actually thinks they should. It would appear that the government’s best prosecutors don’t really give a shit about whether Stagliano gets thrown in the slammer or not. Perhaps they enjoy his films in their private lives, which is understandable, as it’s high quality smut indeed, and if they don’t enjoy it, then very little, aside from an utter lack of seriousness about the case to which they were assigned, could explain the gross mishandling of the evidence these prosecutors were to present, the badly managed witnesses they could barely bring to the stand, or the jaw-droppingly apathetic methods they used to present their case. They were laughingly unprepared at almost every step of the way, and in the end they simply bungled it so badly that it leaves no doubt in my mind about the government’s level of concern over pornography’s obscene presence in our midst: nobody gives a shit.
Except maybe for Judge Richard J. Leon, who seemed ready and willing to hand Stagliano’s head to the wolves on a silver platter: he got to work by first denying the use of expert witnesses on both sides (two had been proffered by the defense to provide artistic and scientific testimony about the merits of the films), then ruling that the jurors did not need to actually watch the entire movies in question in their entirety (a ruling that goes directly against the Miller laws this trial was to be centered on) and then only allowing them to watch parts with the TV screen turned away from the courtroom and using personal headphones to listen! Such behavior, it seems, presupposes the indecency of the material and offers to the jury a strong anti-porn bias from the get-go, putting the good judge’s impartiality into a dim light indeed.
And yet, with the judge on their side and the infuriatingly vague obscenity laws egging them on, the prosecution just could not seem to get their shit together. Before things even got started, prosecutor Pamela Satterfield maintained the government’s determination to level charges against Evil Angel Entertaintment, Inc., a company which no longer exists and which didn’t at the time any of the films in question were produced. (This would be akin to charging Stalin for crimes against humanity now, i.e., ridiculous.) Then, things actually got rolling, nothing improved. First, lead prosecutor Satterfield tried to define “prurient” as “lustful,” a definition which is not only patently wrong, but which has already been deemed inappropriate by a court in Washington state. Then, the prosecution team spent an undisclosed (but sufficiently long for reporters to have mentioned it in their coverage) amount of time trying to figure out how to work the DVD player in the courtroom. Let’s just let that sink in for a second.…
Ok, moving on. When prosecutors finally got the damned contraption to work, their copy of the trailer for Fetish Fanatic 5, which was to be used as evidence in three counts of the indictment against Stagliano, was so flawed the sound would not work and the video froze. We may as well admit we always suspected government employees to be behind on technology, and we realize that burning a DVD can be tough, but really? They’d not made sure it worked before bringing it into the courtroom? After the judge, according to AVN’s Mark Kernes, “thundered…’You’ve had a year and a half to get ready for this case. […] This is not an acceptable way to do business,” he proceeded to throw out two and a half counts of the indictment. But, naturally, the opening statements the prosecution had already made focused heavily upon those very counts. For a group of people who supposedly frown upon filmed coitus, these prosecutors seemed hell-bent on fucking themselves over in from of a courtroom full of people.
Later on, the prosecutors they couldn’t find their third witness and had to rest their early. The witness was “on his way” to the trial but hadn’t made it yet when his turn came. If porn sets were this badly managed, you’d have mopes sticking their cocks in potted plants and forgetting to cum. Seriously.
Then, just to leave everyone present in no doubt whatsoever that the government was mishandling hard-earned taxpayer dollars, the prosecution proceeded to bring to the stand a police detective who maintained he he’d recently re-watched the videos because the lead prosecutor had told him to, by order of the judge. The judge denied giving any such order, and Satterfield agreed that said order had never been passed down, which, as AVN’s Mark Kernes pointed out, presented the puerile prosecution with quite the conundrum — if the witness was wrong about the judge’s order, then his entire testimony would have been null and void, because he’d have blatantly lied on the stand. If this were the case, yet another puncture wound more gaping than Belladonna’s asshole would have been blown in the government’s case. Yet in order to figure all this out, prosecutor Satterfield would have had to take the stand herself and thereby give up her ability to try the rest of the case.
Thank god, for the sake of everyone’s sanity, the prosecution was ready to give it all up and rest its case by Thursday afternoon, but the defense had had enough of their bungling bullshit and moved to dismiss on Rule 29 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. The judge, being possessed, thankfully, of a brain larger than the prosecutors’ combined, dismissed all five remaining charges, stating that the prosecution’s evidence was “woefully inadequate.”
And, with one fell swoop, pornographers across the nation breathed a sigh of much-needed relief. This in no way guarantees that the government won’t go on more wank video witch hunts, but it at least solidifies the court system’s view of obscenity trials: a waste of everyone’s time, money, and attention. —Miss Lagsalot