WASHINGTON, D.C.—On Monday, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon, who will preside over the obscenity trial of John Stagliano and Evil Angel Productions, issued a cryptic order: "Set/Reset Deadlines/Hearings as to JOHN A. STAGLIANO, JOHN STAGLIANO, INC., EVIL ANGEL PRODUCTIONS, INC.: Status Conference set for 12/22/2009 at 11:00 AM in Courtroom 18 before Judge Richard J. Leon."
Now, the status conference was something that the U.S. Department fo Justice (DOJ) had asked for in mid-November, and it was opposed by attorneys for all of the defendants because Judge Leon had not yet ruled on the defendants' motion to dismiss the indictments—a ruling the judge still has yet to issue—and that therefore, a "status conference" was premature, since if the indictments were to be dismissed, a status conference would be meaningless.
Stranger still, when several of the attorneys involved—H. Louis Sirkin, Jennifer Kinsley, Allan Gelbard and Paul Cambria—asked if it would be possible for them to attend the conference by telephone, their requests were summarily denied, leaving all defense counsel to wonder what development in the case could possibly be so important that the judge needed to see all counsel in person?
"We don't know why this is happening," stated Sirkin. "All we know is, he wouldn't let us do it by telephone. Earlier this week, we got an order saying that he'd set a status conference for Dec. 22 at 11 o'clock. We all emailed each other, and we had [local counsel] Bob Corn-Revere call the court to find out whether we had to be there, and he said, 'Yeah, and if anybody had problems with that date'—because we had mentioned that it was awfully close to Christmas and it might be very difficult to make travel arrangements and whatever—and the clerk said something about, 'Well, then, my suggestion is that you file a motion for continuance.' So we didn't file a motion, because most of us didn't really have anything we couldn't get out of, so we all filed motions requesting that out-of-town counsel be allowed to attend by phone, and we got an order yesterday denying that. So we have to go there Tuesday."
Sirkin opined that it was unlikely that the judge would use the conference to hand down rulings on the defendants' Motions to Dismiss, or on an early discovery motion that the defense had filed, looking for materials relating to a reported attempt by the government to obtain an indictment against Stagliano and Evil Angel in Virginia, which a grand jury in that state had reportedly rejected.
Simply put, everyone on the defense team is puzzled.
"It's like when a jury sends a note to the judge saying that they've got a question, and you sit around and you speculate what does it mean, and we really don't know," Sirkin said. "It could be lots of things; just to tell us it's going to take him a while longer; he may want to put language in there that any delay or something like that may have to do with the 'furtherance of justice,' which are magic words because there may be some concerns maybe with the speedy trial [act], but I don't know why we have to be there. We've had courts file orders of dismissal—that's what happened to us in Pittsburgh, with the Extreme case. I mean, he [Judge Gary Lancaster] didn't bring us in for a status conference to read his opinion. We've had courts tell us that they're looking at trial dates and he wants to know our calendars. Many of them have allowed us to do it by telephone."
When asked if the conference might simply be because it has been over a year since the Motions to Dismiss were argued, and Judge Leon wanted to see the attorneys' faces, Sirkin just laughed.
"It could be anything," he said. "Maybe he wants to impose a gag order on us or something; we just don't know."