HOLLYWOOD, Fla.—Evil Angel owner John Stagliano and the trio of lawyers that represented him spoke Friday at The AVN Show for their first extensive comments since Stagliano’s acquittal on federal obscenity charges last month.
Introduced as one of his “personal heroes” by AVN founder and chairman Paul Fishbein, a humble yet proud Stagliano with attorneys Paul Cambria, H. Louis Sirkin and Allan Gelbard on the dais next to him, spoke of his two and a half year ordeal batting the feds.
“On occasion [the trial] made me feel like a celebrity with a cause,” Stagliano mused. “The reason we got an acquittal was because of the brilliant minds here next to me. It happened because of my legal team.”
The mood on stage was celebratory and triumphant as Stagliano recounted with a sense of irony some of the thoughts running through his mind during the trial.
After forgetting to check in with the court a few times after he was arraigned, the judge summoned Stagliano to the front of the courtroom to scold him. After the verbal lashing, a sheepish Stagliano apologized, but when the judge asked him if he thought it was funny Stagliano thought “I’m on trial for girls squirting milk out of their butts. I think that’s already pretty funny.”
Stagliano also alluded to his libertarian leanings citing the prosecution’s, and particularly lead Justice Department attorney Pamela Satterfield’s, incompetence during the trial. Stagliano maintained that even as Judge Richard Leon ruled against the defense in certain pre-trial motions, as the government stumbled throughout the case, his legal team was able to poke holes in their evidence, witnesses, and perhaps most damning, their own credibility.
The prosecution’s most glaring error was their inability to burn a working copy of the web trailer of Belladonna’s Fetish Fanatic 5. After that technical snafu which led to the dismissal of two counts against Stagliano, it started a snowball effect that eventually led to the a Rule 29 motion, which dismissed the remaining charges.
“Maybe this is good for government work, but not for a criminal trial,” Stagliano said. “They played loose with the details. They didn't care enough. I learned that government lawyers aren't as good as private lawyers. In general, government incompetence reared its head again.”
Even though prosecutorial screwups contributed to the case being tossed, its the overarching ideal of freedom that won the day, Stagliano said. Personally objecting to the content and thereby preventing someone else from seeing it is a slippery slope.
“The argument that won is that we live in a free country,” he said. “[The jurors] might have been repulsed and not wanted to watch [the movies], but censorship is worse than not allowing these movies to exist at all.”
Famed attorney Paul Cambria was the first to speak after Stagliano and with his commanding presence and forceful oratory style it’s easy to see why he’s a pitbull in the courtroom.
Cambria said that Stagliano was one of his best clients because “he's a freedom fighter. He believes in his principles; he believes in his movies.”
Cambria also explained the government’s modus operandi in an obscenity case, which “is to pick the worst place to try the trial. Pick an ignorant jury. Shock the hell out of them and hope that they ride the shockwave into the jury room.”
In his remarks, Allan Gelbard mentioned that the government had initially wanted to bring the case to northern Alabama, but couldn’t pull it off. The judge’s question of “What are we doing here today gentlemen?” prompted Gelbard to quip “Judicially or existentially?”
Sirkin said that he found it “strange that [the case] would be brought in D.C. The National Archives and Constitution sits virtually across the street. That the government would bring these freedom of speech issues in the place that guarantees us these freedoms is ironic.”
Cambria described a prosecution that couldn’t get out of its own way from the opening statement. After misstating the definition of prurient interest in its opener, one of the prongs of the Miller test, Cambria objected—a rare occurance—and the judge wigged out.
“It was important to object because most cases are won or lost on the opening statement; that sets the tone of the case,” he said. “We laid out the argument perfectly in our opening statement; we wanted to lay out our whole theory in it. When the doors opened up, we knew how to walk through them.”
All three lawyers praised Stagliano’s resolve and determination in the face of decades in prison and millions of dollars in fines. Gelbard attested to Stagliano’s rigorous note-taking, suggestions and active involvement with every facet of the case.
“We had a championship client who had a lot of guts” Sirkin said. “It was a big victory.”
Sirkin summed it up best for the audience: “Tolerance is the most virtuous thing we have.” Amen.
Pictured above, left to right are H. Louis Sirkin, John Stagliano and Allan Gelbard.