WASHINGTON. D.C.—As AVN readers know, the John Stagliano trial was quite controversial even before testimony began, due to some unusual rulings by the presiding judge, Richard J. Leon. At the outset of the proceedings, Judge Leon closed his courtroom to the press while he and the attorneys for both sides discussed the responses of prospective jurors to certain jury questionnaires which they were required to fill out before beginning their service—an action that AVN reporter Mark Kernes noted he had not experienced during the three previous federal obscenity trials he had attended.
Additionally, although today’s afternoon session was entirely taken up by playing the second scene from Jay Sin's Milk Nymphos, the judge refused to play the soundtrack from the video in open court, requiring everyone to listen to it through wireless headphones. But while the judge, jury, attorneys and just two local members of the press were given the headphones, the rest of the journalists and spectators were not—again, for no discernible reason.
The following is a letter that Kernes sent to the Chief Clerk of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, complaining about the treatment by Judge Leon:
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia
333 Constitution Ave.
To Whom It May Concern:
As a journalist, I write to register my dismay at the conduct of the trial in U.S. v. John Stagliano, et al. case, which is currently being tried before Judge Richard J. Leon.
As a journalist, I have covered three previous federal obscenity cases—U.S. v. Little (Middle Dist. of Fla.), U.S. v. JM Productions (Dist. of Ariz.) and U.S. v. Isaacs (Central Dist. of Calif.)—and in all of those cases, reporters were permitted to attend all phases of the trial, including the jury selection, during which the jurors were all referred to by their juror number in order to protect their privacy.
However, in the Stagliano case, Judge Leon closed the courtroom while the attorneys were discussing the written jury questionnaires and questioning individual prospective jurors based on their answers in the questionnaires. It has been my experience that prospective jurors' answers to counsels' questions can be very informative of their backgrounds and mindsets, and as a reporter, I believe I should have had access to that information as background for my coverage of the trial, and that Judge Leon's order amounted to a violation of the First Amendment's "freedom of the press" clause.
Further, it is my understanding that during the trial itself, Judge Leon will not permit the playing of any portion of the charged allegedly obscene videos to anyone except counsel, the witness, the jury and two selected local journalists, of which I am not one. The TVs on which the videos will be played will be turned away from the courtroom spectators and reporters, and the jury will be issued headphones through which to hear the dialogue on the videos, effectively preventing several members of the press and the general public from viewing and hearing the charged material. Not only do I believe the press has a right to see and hear this evidence, but I also believe the prevention of the press and the public from seeing and hearing the portions of the DVDs will imply to the jury that there is something wrong with the material, thereby giving undue weight to the prosecution's case and unduly prejudicing the defense.
I have come all the way from California to cover this important legal proceeding, and I hope you will take these issues seriously and ask Judge Leon to follow proper procedure and allow the press access to these important portions of this trial.
Mark Kernes, Senior Editor
AVN Media Network