Chicago lawyer J.D. Obenberger, counsel for Le Video Store owner Emmette Jacob, has filed a motion to dismiss charges against his client on the grounds that Louisiana communities, arranged in parishes, have not defined their standards. What’s more, he said, it is unclear to which community’s standard Jacob’s actions should be held. “Is it the whole state of Louisiana, or is it Acadiana, or is it just St. Martin Parish, or St. Martin Parish and Iberia Parish?” Obenberger asked.
Jacob and another video store owner, Edward Burleigh, were formally charged with obscenity in December when their employees agreed to testify against them to avoid jail time. Only Jacob has appealed the ruling, with Burleigh hoping a successful appeal would similarly lead to dismissal of charges against him.
American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana director Joe Cook said he believes that the state's obscenity law is ready for a challenge. “I think the statute is suspect,” he said.
Applying what is known as the LAPS test for obscenity, Obenberger’s dismissal motion refers to a definition of obscenity as anything that the "average person, applying contemporary community standards," would find appeals to a base interest and has no literary, artistic, political or scientific value, granting that the community in question must be properly defined.
Le Video Store and Burleigh’s Video Place have been open since the early 1980s. Following a sting operation last summer in which employees of both stores sold or rented pornographic tapes or DVDs to minors, including one film St. Martin Parish prosecutor Chester Cedars described as “a woman having sex with a horse,” the charges against both stores elevated from the specific to the general.
Illegal sales, taken individually, carried a lesser charge and fine scenario. A finding of illegal obscenity could close the stores.
Lafayette attorney William Goode, Jacob’s other lawyer, does not take issue with the original charge of illegal sale but with obscenity. “It’s a First Amendment freedom-of-speech issue, which is very important to all of us,” he said. “When you start limiting what people can look at and what people can say, it becomes a slippery slope. The First Amendment is not the First Amendment by accident.”
Jacob’s and Burleigh’s stores are not the only ones in the Lafayette/St. Martin Parish area to face obscenity charges. Ryan Hargroder of Lafayette’s The Bad Kitty had his store shut down and his tapes and DVDs confiscated by the District Attorney’s office.
“If you can make the movies under the First Amendment, you should be able to sell the movies under the First Amendment,” Hargroder said.