3rd Circuit Rules Against Extreme Associates, Case Goes Back to District Court

Rhett Pardon
PHILADELPHIA — A federal appeals court Thursday agreed to reverse a lower court decision favoring the owners of Extreme Associates Inc. and remand the case for further proceedings.

The unanimous decision, which goes against Rob Zicari and wife Janet Romano, stemmed from charges filed in 2003 for distributing obscene videos through the mail and over the Internet.

The government’s original 10-count indictment against the couple was dismissed on Jan. 20 by U.S. District Court Judge Gary Lancaster, who found that the federal anti-obscenity statutes were unconstitutional when applied to Extreme Associates because they violated an individual’s right to privacy.

“Because we conclude that the district court improperly set aside applicable Supreme Court precedent which has repeatedly upheld federal statutes regulating the distribution of obscenity in the face of both First Amendment and substantive due process attacks, we will reverse the judgment of the district court,” the 3rd U.S. Court of Appeals said.

The court weighed whether the district court erred by dismissing an indictment brought against Extreme Associates under 18 U.S.C. §§ 1461 and 1465, which criminalize the commercial distribution of obscene materials, on the ground that those statutes violate the privacy rights of Extreme’s customers under the Fifth Amendment doctrine of substantive due process.

“We conclude that directly applicable Supreme Court precedent, upholding the constitutionality of the federal statutes regulating the distribution of obscenity under First Amendment and substantive due process privacy rights, governs this case,” the court said in its opinion.

“The district court was bound by that authority, as are we, to uphold those statutes as applied to Extreme Associates on behalf of its customers,” the ruling said. “As such, the district court erred in striking down the statutes and dismissing the indictment against Extreme Associates.”

The case against Zicari, the owner of gonzo-themed ExtremeAssociates.com who goes by the name Rob Black, was the first federal obscenity prosecution against a video manufacturer in a decade.

If convicted, Zicari and Romano face up to 50 years in prison and a fine of $2.5 million.

The government’s case originally zeroed-in on the video ''Forced Entry,'' which stars and is directed by Romano, who uses the name Lizzie Borden.

The Chatsworth, Calif.-based company bills the film as a ''stunningly disturbing look at a serial killer, Satanic rituals and the depths of human depravity.''

The case is U.S. vs. Extreme Associates Inc., No. 05-1555.