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Trials

Sex and the Shitty: Scat-Porn Trial Unravels

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Wed, Jun 11, 2008 at 11:29 PM

Ira Isaacs came to court Wednesday morning with an idea. The defendant in a federal obscenity trial revolving around his distribution of films graphically depicting bestiality and feces, Isaacs thought it would be good to bring in two actors as witnesses to demonstrate how real stage violence can appear – and sound to the ears of an audience. The auteur of Hollywood Scat Amateurs #7 and importer of Gang Bang Horse “Pony Sex Game” and Mako’s First Time Scat, Isaacs felt government prosecutors might be tempted to play up the nonstop crying and whimpering of the latter film’s much-abused actress. The idea didn’t fly with Isaac’s lawyer, Roger Diamond, which is just as well, for the day had enough drama of its own.

At the conclusion of court Tuesday, L.A. Times trial reporter Scott Glover strode into Judge Alex Kozinski’s chambers, raising eyebrows among other journalists surprised by Glover’s backstage access. The next day, however, shortly after Isaacs floated his choking demonstration idea, the reason for Glover’s visit became clear – he had been there to ask Kozinski about allegations that the Chief Judge of the Ninth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals had maintained a personal Web site that contained sexually graphic images that didn’t sound too far removed from the ones Isaacs is facing 20 years in Leavenworth for distributing.

Suddenly this trial, whose opening statements had begun only this morning, was thrown into cartwheeling turmoil. By day’s end Kozinski agreed to a government motion to suspend the trial until Monday and the word “Mistrial” rang as harshly in the court corridors as Ms. Mako’s wails. From the start the trial had seemed a little circus-y. Even before the jury was selected, defense attorney Diamond seemed to delight in ribbing prosecutor Kenneth Whitted, who looks a little like an older, uptight version of the actor Arjay Smith. When Diamond couldn’t get Whitted to crack a smile over Diamond’s gag about Isaacs having spent three days in Guantanamo with a sheet over his head, Diamond counseled, “Relax – it’s only a trial.”

No doubt Diamond himself was relaxed over the fact that Kozinski had used his authority to personally intervene and replace the previous judge, George King, with himself. For the defense, Kozinski, a libertarian Reagan appointee with a long track record of defending individual rights and the freedom of expression, was the perfect jurist to preside over the case. Kozinski, whose Jewish parents were Holocaust survivors, and who came to America from Romania as a child, cuts an affable, even lovable, avuncular figure: His Old World strudel voice and elliptical observations often bring giggles or adoring smiles from young court externs sitting in the spectator’s gallery. Like Diamond, Kozinski has seemed, in the trial’s early stages, to enjoy taking the wind out of Whitted’s sails, often interrupting the prosecutor in mid-sentence and frequently denying his objections to Diamond’s cross-examination by reminding him that he gives defendants wide latitude.

But following the Times’ explosive revelation, Kozinski suddenly seemed to have a little more in common with this particular defendant than an appreciation for the underdog. The trial’s rhythm and focus were further broken and disoriented when the entire court schlepped from the downtown L.A. federal courthouse to Kozinski’s appellate court complex in Pasadena, in order to seat the jury in a more comfortable auditorium to watch the three films the government alleges are obscene. Before the afternoon session began, though, a clearly distracted Kozinski called the two sides together and said of the Times piece:

“I don’t have any comment on the story. I did not know about it before the jury was sworn or I would have said something about it. And I want to give the parties time to think about whether they wish to move to disqualify me.”

Diamond, perhaps sensing the most porn-sympathetic judge available to Isaacs was slipping away, said he was just fine with the status quo, while Whitted claimed to need more time to discuss the matter with the Justice Department. Then the first two films were shown – a Dutch one involving a young woman’s sexual encounter with a pair of horses, and the Japanese entry in which the doll-like Mako is slapped around, finger-gagged and forced to eat her own feces. Throughout the screening clerks passed notes to Kozinski, who could occasionally be seen checking his cell phone.

As the late-afternoon sun sank just beyond Suicide Bridge over the Arroyo Seco, the auditorium seemed to unravel in bureaucratic chaos as the judge, jurors, lawyers, reporters and court staff wandered in and out of the room and bumped up against one another in a lobby. Hovering over the proceedings was the Cromwellian presence of Brent Ward, the dour chief of the Justice Department’s anti-obscenity task force and a man who seems to view dirty pictures as more dangerous to civilization than global warming. At 5:30 p.m. Whitted shut off the second DVD just as Mako was about to eat another turd.

With the jury cooling its heels – and loudly laughing – in the lobby, Whitted requested a 48-hour suspension of the trial to give the Justice Department time to consider whether or not to request Kozinski’s removal from the case.

As he had, ominously enough, been doing since the news of his Web site hit the streets, Kozinski began dithering. Minutes stretched out as he tried to make up his mind. Finally Diamond helped make it for him by assenting to the prosecutor’s request. Earlier that day, during a cross examination of an FBI agent, Diamond had gotten him to admit that pornography was all over the Internet.

“It’s all out there,” the agent had said, unintentionally paraphrasing the TV FBI agents of the X Files, whose catch line was, “The truth is out there.” Come Monday, Los Angeles will learn if Judge Kozinski’s XXX files will have created enough pressure to force him off this trial in disgrace.

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