U.S. Files Appeal in Extreme Associates Case

Jeff Berg
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Justice and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales announced plans to appeal the recent dismissal of obscenity charges filed against adult film company Extreme Associates and owners Robert Zicari and Janet Romano.

The pair were initially charged in 2003 with 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.

“We find that the federal obscenity statutes burden an individual’s fundamental right to possess, read, observe and think about what he chooses in the privacy of his own home by completely banning the distribution of obscene materials, wrote Lancaster in his dismissal of the case.

Citing Lawrence vs. Texas, a Supreme Court case that struck down Texas anti-sodomy laws, Lancaster wrote, “The government can no longer rely on the advancement of a moral code, preventing consenting adults from entertaining lewd or lascivious thoughts, as a legitimate, let along compelling, state interest.”

On Wednesday, the government filed a notice of appeal in the case, bringing it now before the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“The Department of Justice places a premium on the First Amendment right to free speech, but certain activities do not fall within those protections, such as selling or distributing obscene materials,” said U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in a statement issued Wednesday. “The Department of Justice remains strongly committed to the investigation and prosecution of adult obscenity cases.”

Raising the case to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals might be a risky venture for the government, according to legal experts, because the court has traditionally been favorable to Internet free speech rights.

Twice, the appellate court ruled that the Child Online Protect Act was unconstitutional, fire finding that its use of “community standards to judge Internet content would “subject Internet providers in even the most tolerant communities to the decency standards of the most puritanical,” and then finding that the law was too broad to avoid infringing on free speech rights.

Currently, the court is evenly split between Republican and Democrat judges.

“Liberal or conservative, I don’t think, is a really good way of determining how a court would rule on an issue like [Extreme Associate],” Robert Corn-Revere, a partner at the Washington office of international law firm Davis Wright Tremaine told XBiz. “It could go either way, but the 3rd Circuit has always been a favorable court to go to on these types of issues.”