Thursday, August 14, 2008

Corn pone, porn pone

Belle Rose has spent about a day and a half observing the so-called "Porn Trial" in Staunton Circuit Court. You can check out the media's reports at The News Leader, the News Virginian, NBC29 or TV3. Will probably return tomorrow.
Rather than relate the "facts" I'll just scratch around with the dirty birds. First, my bias - I'm almost an absolutist on the First Amendment freedoms of expression. Certainly child porn is not protected but I believe consenting adults have the right to read, view, see, hear pretty much anything else. While there may be other restrictions, this post will focus on obscenity and pornography issues, not things like national security or slander.
A few pieces of grit:
  • While you never know how a jury will react and decide a case, the Commonwealth's Attorney, Ray Robertson has a weak case and is out gunned at practically every turn. One "star" witness, retired police chief Butch Wells, was rejected by Judge Wood as an expert/qualified witness on the topic of contemporary community standards/views on obscenity. The judge applauded Mr. Wells' honesty and insights into the community he served for over 30 years, but agreed with the defense that he was not an expert nor did he have special insights that qualified him. The jurors themselves will the the standard bearers for what are the community's views on adult sexual materials, obscenity, etc.
  • The jurors spent nearly four hours viewing two DVDs that Mr. Robertson thinks are obscene. The screen was turned so that the jurors, the judge, the lawyers, and bailiffs could view the videos. The audience listened to moans, groans, sexual talk sprinkled with some dirty words - but saw nothing. It was surreal and pretty boring for the audience. I was a little surprised that a few in the audience whispered and there were some grins - all of which the jurors could see if they looked away from the screen.
  • The jurors did a great job paying attention without too much visible emotional response. There are three female and four male jurors. I'm no judge of age, but two of the men are clearly senior citizens, one seems to be in his 50s, and the other about thirty. All of the women seem middle aged. I watched a young reporter writing down every move - a scratched nose, a yawn, looking away, or a slight grin. My observation is they were at various times shocked, bored, sleepy, amused, and by the end of the day numb.
  • The defense will probably put on quite a show with a variety of witnesses on the First Amendment, the Miller case and other decisions shaping the legal definition of obscenity, and on "community standards." Since the prosecution seemed somewhat ill-prepared on these so far, I imagine the next day will be interesting as Robertson stumbles into his cross examination. 
  • For all the news coverage and supposed interest in the case against After Hours Video, its owner and an employee, the courtroom is basically empty. TV and print media account for about half of the audience that usually numbers in the mid teens (people can come and go at any time). There were several senior citizens who appeared to me to be part of a church or other anti-porn group, but I really don't know who they were. A few employees of law offices and police officers make up most of the rest of the audience.
  • To most objective observers, Ray Robertson has a hollow case so he must have some political or hard core personal moral motive. But, is it worth getting your clock cleaned in the courtroom and your reputation as a prosecutor sullied? Wasted dollars. Wasted police time. Wasted court time. Am I also wasting my time?
The defense begins its case tomorrow and perhaps we'll have a decision by the weekend. Or not? Maybe the jury will return guilty verdicts, but I think the very best the prosecution can hope for is a hung jury.  Ray Robertson has misrepresented the good people of Staunton.

1 comment:

unionman said...

What an absolute waste of taxpayer money. With the newspapers of the area full of stories about gang activity, drug selling, people being robbed and beaten up, you'd think our super hero "PORN MAN" would devote his energies to something other than porn.