Facial Challenge

Pink slips and porn czars


In December 2006, the Department of Justice fired Paul Charlton, the U.S. attorney for Arizona. The dismissal of Charlton, one of eight federal prosecutors controversially terminated by the Justice Department, helped spark a political scandal that led to the resignations of two top aides to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Of the eight, Charlton's firing was probably the only one reported in the trade publication Adult Video News.

Although Charlton had the highest conviction rate of any U.S. attorney in the country, he had come under fire from Justice Department official Brent Ward, known as the federal "porn czar," for his reluctance to take a federal obscenity case Ward wanted him to prosecute. In 2005 Gonzales had told the 92 U.S. attorneys that the prosecution of porn producers would be a "top priority" under his watch.

The case Ward urged Charlton to take had a curious twist: Ward wanted him to charge an Arizona porn producer for shipping obscene movies across state lines. Charlton soon discovered that another Arizona porn distributor had been selling several of the same movie titles. The second distributor had recently declared bankruptcy, and the company was being monitored by trustees for the federal government to ensure that it met its federal tax obligations.

The discrepancy gave Charlton pause: How could he prosecute a company for violating federal obscenity laws when another company was making money for the federal government selling the same movies? The contradiction didn't seem to faze Ward or the Justice Department. The porn dispute and one other complaint about Charlton's reluctance to take smaller drug cases were the only criticisms of him in the thousands of emails about the U.S. attorney dismissals that the Justice Department turned over to Congress.