PITTSBURGH - In the longest running obscenity case in American history, Extreme Associate owners Rob Black (Robert Zicari) and Lizzy Borden (Janet Romano) today each entered guilty pleas to one count of conspiracy to distribute obscene material. Trial had been scheduled to begin with jury selection on Monday.
The plea capped a legal battle, begun in 2003 with a 10-count indictment, that had promised to deal with cutting edge free speech issues, most notably the question of whether the Supreme Court's seminal decision regarding sexual privacy rights in Lawrence v. Texas could be applied to sellers of even obscene sexual material if the buyers were other consenting adults.
Other issues included how sexually explicit movie trailers posted on membership websites could be found obscene in light of the Supreme Court's recent affirmation of the Third Circuit's striking down of the Child Online Protection Act, as well as the question of what "taken as a whole" means in the context of, for instance, a 21-second video clip posted on a website containing hundreds of such clips, photos and text.
"We knew that this was the right case to bring from the day we brought it," said U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan, who will likely soon be replaced by Attorney General Eric Holder. "The materials produced by Extreme Associates were so far across the line between pornography and obscenity, we believe any jurisdiction across the country would have found the materials obscene."
In fact, just three videos were indicted - Forced Entry and Cocktails 2, both directed by Borden, and Extreme Teen 24, credited to "Stanley Ferrara" but reportedly the work of several directors - as well as six video clips: Valeriejospit.wmv, jewel.mpeg, PZ Summer Breeze.mpeg, dp_gangbang_7_gen_X.mpeg, miacum.mpeg, analasspirations1.mpeg.
But as noted in AVN's recent editorial , defense of obscenity requires huge amounts of cash, and with Extreme Associates long closed, and Black and Borden reportedly employed only sporadically - and with an almost universal lack of support from the adult industry - it was too much to expect that attorneys H. Louis Sirkin and Jennifer Kinsley would be willing to handle the projected two-week trial (and its subsequent appeals) on a pro bono basis. However, Sirkin has assured AVN that Black's financial situation was not a factor in this case .
"They're doing whatever they can to earn a living," said Sirkin, who handled the defendants' guilty plea agreement in Pittsburgh this morning.
"Concessions from both sides made it in the best interests of all parties," he said of the plea. "This has gone on for a very, very long time. Everybody wants to get on with their lives."
Estimates of the possible sentences that could be imposed under the plea have ranged from as little as 10 months in prison for each individual defendant to as much as five years, and a possible fine of $250,000 for each individual and the corporation. The couple will be sentenced on July 1.
The severity of the sentence is also much in question, considering that the presiding judge, Gary L. Lancaster, had dismissed all charges in January of 2005, only to have them reinstated later that year by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. Several legal scholars have opined that the reason Black and Borden have not been brought to trial more quickly was in part due to Lancaster's extremely well-reasoned opinion dismissing the charges, and the government's apprehension that Lancaster might make rulings during the trial that favored the defense and made it more difficult for Buchanan to get a conviction. Since federal sentencing guidelines are now advisory-only, Lancaster will have great leeway as to what length of sentence to impose.
More on this breaking story as it develops.