Stagliano Attorney: Challenge Everything

Lyla Katz
LOS ANGELES — U.S District Judge Richard Leon filed a memorandum opinion last week, explaining in further detail the reasoning behind his rulings in the John Stagliano obscenity trial.

The 11-page brief summarized the various motions and arguments made by the defendants and plaintiffs. In his conclusion, Leon stated “the defendants took a particularly aggressive position regarding the procedural approach of the trial of this case,” a statement defense attorney Allan Gelbard takes as a compliment.

Gelbard told XBIZ that in an obscenity trial, the key is to challenge everything.

“Challenge everything you can. You never know when a small issue can turn into a larger issue later,” he said.

Though the team’s aggressiveness helped Stagliano secure a win, Gelbard says he disagreed with most of Leon’s rulings, especially when he disallowed the testimony of defense expert witnesses, Prof. Constance Penley and Dr. Lawrence Sank.

In June, Leon held a Daubert hearing to elicit testimony from the prospective expert witnesses about their qualifications, principles and methodologies. He found that the reasoning of the witnesses were not sufficiently reliable to qualify them as experts in this case.

Leon said that Sank’s testimony “did not convince me; however, that he had any greater insight into the community standards of the district relating to a particular work’s prurient appeal or offensiveness than the average juror would have had.

“If anything, his opinion would have been distorted and potentially misleading to the jury because it would have been based entirely on his interaction with people who come to him for treatment thinking that they have a psychological problem or a particular sexual problem and are willing to speak openly about it.”

The judge said that to be reliable an opinion on scientific merit must be grounded in scientific knowledge.

Speaking of Penley, who teaches film studies at UC Santa Barbara, Leon said, “because Penley was not particularly clear on whether art is just a subjective matter of taste or whether there is in fact a meaningful line separating serious art from lesser art, I did not find her putative approach to evaluating the serious artistic value of a work, which is subjective and notably lacking in detail, to be a particularly reliable or helpful guide for the jury.”

Gelbard disagreed saying that the two expert witnesses were qualified to give expert testimony.

In fact, Gelbard said most of Leon’s rulings made it difficult to mount a proper defense.

“I think what he was doing was trying to prevent people from being able to defend adequately,” he said.

The final piece of advice he offers for anyone involved in an obscenity case, “make sure you have a lawyer who knows how to handle these cases.”