Extreme Associates Case Goes Back to Court

Matt O'Conner
PITTSBURGH, Pa. — On Wednesday, attorneys for the U.S. Justice Department will begin appealing the dismissal of federal obscenity charges against adult studio Extreme Associates.

U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan will argue before a three-judge panel on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the company, as well as husband and wife owners Robert Zicari and Janet Romano, aka Rob Black and Lizzie Borden, distributed videos depicting content that violated obscenity standards within one Pennsylvania community they were shipped to.

It’s the same argument the government made in its earlier case against the company in U.S. District Court — a case that was ultimately thrown out.

The case stems from a 2002 sting operation in which an undercover U.S. Postal Service inspector ordered several of Extreme Associates’ videos through the company’s members-only website.

In April of the following year, postal inspectors, supported by Los Angeles police, raided the company’s offices and seized several videos. The Justice Department filed 10 charges against the Northridge, Calif., couple and their company in 2003, alleging that the videos, taken as a whole, would be considered obscene by the average person in the community where charges were filed.

In January, U.S. District Judge Gary Lancaster dismissed the charges on constitutional grounds, ruling that an individual’s right to view obscene material in the privacy of his home implies a company’s right to market and distribute such material. Lancaster added that technological devices can restrict access to websites and shield those who do not want to be exposed to it.

Buchanan appealed Lancaster’s ruling to the 3rd Circuit, but it may be a year or more before the three-judge panel makes a ruling on whether the case will be allowed to proceed. If Lancaster’s initial ruling is upheld, it could be a major setback for the government and its pursuit of obscenity convictions.

In the meantime, it’s business as usual for Zicari. He will remain in California to oversee his company and let his lawyers handle legal matters in Pennsylvania.

“The case has been going on for almost two years. I’m used to it now,” Zicari told XBiz. “It’s part of the business. If you’re going to be in this business, you have to get used to this stuff, especially with Bush in office.”

The Extreme Associates case was hoped by many conservatives to be the first strike in the Bush Administration's war on pornography. The government’s loss was a major blow, temporarily stalling legal action against other adult companies — until the FBI raid several weeks ago on the offices of Max Hardcore’s Max World Entertainment.

Zicari said he remains confident that he will prevail in the end, and he’s certain Hardcore feels the same way.

“One good thing I’ll say about Max, he’s like me, he’ll fight it,” Zicari said. “We have upper hand right now. We’re up by two touch downs. They need to make a big play just to tie it. I’ve gone through it already, and now it’s a matter of, ‘Whatever happens, happens.’ The case could possibly never go to trial, or go to trial during the first term of the next president.”

Zacari has tried to make the best of a bad situation by repackaging several of the videos at the center of the case and selling them as the “Federal Five,” but he said the publicity has been both good and bad for the company.

“In some ways, we’re doing better than when we got busted,” he told XBiz. “The case got our name out there to the consumer base, so it helped us reach new customers. But it’s a double-edged sword, because there are a handful of distributors who are scared to carry our products now. So, it’s kind of a wash.”

Zicari is adamant, however, that Extreme Associates won’t back down from the government, or water down its content. He said the company is gearing up to launch a technically advanced, “crazier, harder” version of its membership website at ExtremeAssociates.com sometime next week.

“We did well with the website when we launched it a few years ago, and we honestly didn’t know what we were doing then,” he said. “Now we have video-on-demand and a great referral program with tons of free content for webmasters to promote the site. That’s really where the industry is headed, and we want to be out in front.”