Civil Liberties

The Stagliano Victory Party

Final notes from the Justice Department's obscene case against the adult film industry.


(Editor's Note: Richard Abowitz covered John Stagliano's obscenity trial in Washington, D.C. for Reason. See all our trial-related coverage and commentary at this link.)

At the victory party Friday night after having had all charges against him dropped in federal court, pornographer John Stagliano, his lawyers, his family, and colleagues from the adult industry raised a toast to his freedom. But because his wife is pregnant and his daughter is underage, and because one of the films under indictment was called Milk Nymphos, the champagne flutes were filled with an unusual fluid: milk.

The atmosphere was electric a few hours earlier for what turned out to be the final day of trial. As I wrote Friday, the morning drama involved prosecutor Pamela Satterfield feuding with Judge Richard Leon over the discrepancy between her memory and the testimony of her star witness, FBI Special Agent Daniel Bradley, about who instructed him to re-view the allegedly obscene source material. When that was resolved, the prosecution rested, but then faced an even bigger surprise.

Drawing on all the problems and inconsistency with the evidence presented by the state, defense lawyers moved for all the charges that remained on the indictment to be thrown out. The defense argued that, incredibly, the prosecution failed even to link the movies to any of the defendants (John Stagliano, John Stagliano Inc., and Evil Angel Productions, Inc). The judge agreed, dismissing the case even before Stagliano's lawyers mounted their defense.

Judge Leon rightly pointed out to prosecutors that given both the severity of the alleged crime and the constitutional implications of the trial, it was particularly incumbent that they know exactly who they were charging. Too bad the judge did not make that ruling two years ago, when it would have been just as valid. This case should never have been allowed, and was brought to court only by the kitchen-sink Grand Jury process.

Afterwards, government prosecutors Bonnie G. Hannan and Pamela Satterfield declined to grant an interview about their actions on behalf of the citizens of the United States. It took years of government resources and uncounted dollars to produce a prosecution that couldn't even present evidence to a jury. You would think that the government would feel at least a twinge of obligation to explain this total waste of time and money.

Going forward, it is long past time for the Justice Department to disband the pointless Obscenity Prosecution Task Force, which goes around on the taxpayer dime searching through mountains of porn to invent victimless crimes. What a shameful, even obscene, waste of time, money, and lives.  

This case is now over. But some of Judge Leon's freedom-threatening rulings may well live on. He declared expert testimony in obscenity cases irrelevant, and he also attempted to weaken the Miller test, which had prevoiusly required disputed works to be shown in their entirety before conviction.

Those are no small matters, but they are battles for another day.

Richard Abowitz has chronicled the rise and continuing fall of Las Vegas for the Las Vegas Weekly, Vegas Seven, and the Los Angeles Times, most notably at the Movable Buffet blog. He now blogs chiefly at He can be followed on Twitter at @RichardAbowitz.

Disclosure: John Stagliano has been a donor to Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this website.