Obscenity judge calls mistrial

A federal judge under scrutiny for posting sexually explicit material on his own Web site declared a mistrial Friday in an obscenity trial over which he was presiding.

Judge Alex Kozinski said he would ask that the case be assigned to another judge.

Kozinski is chief judge of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals but was serving as a trial judge in a federal obscenity prosecution of a man who distributed videos showing bestiality and extreme fetishes.

“In light of the public controversy surrounding my involvement in this case, I have concluded that there is a manifest necessity to declare a mistrial,” Kozinski wrote in his order.

The material on Kozinski's Web site included photos of naked women posed and painted to look like cows and of a man cavorting with a sexually aroused farm animal, according to the Los Angeles Times, which first reported about the images Wednesday. The pornography at the center of the trial depicted extreme fetishes, including bestiality, violence against women and sex acts involving feces and urine.

The postings on the judge's Web site came to light earlier this week when opening statements were under way. The trial was suspended Wednesday after jurors had already watched some of the videos.

Kozinski on Thursday asked an ethics panel of the 9th Circuit to investigate his own conduct and pledged to cooperate. He also asked Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts to assign the inquiry to judges outside the 9th Circuit's jurisdiction of nine western states.

In the obscenity case, the U.S. Department of Justice is prosecuting Ira Isaacs, 57, on four counts, including importation or transportation of obscene material for sale. He faces a maximum of 20 years in prison and forfeiture of assets if convicted.

Defense attorney Roger Jon Diamond said he was very upset about the mistrial and was considering his options.

Diamond accused the Department of Justice of “intimidating Judge Kozinski into doing this.” Justice Department attorneys are trying the case.

“We all have to be nervous and concerned when the executive branch can do this to anybody, including the sitting federal appeals judge,” Diamond said.

Department of Justice spokeswoman Laura Sweeney in Washington declined to comment.

Diamond said he was certain jurors knew of the controversy but he favored allowing the trial to proceed with Kozinski presiding, rather than simply changing judges.

Cyrus Sanai, a Beverly Hills lawyer who has had a long-running dispute with the 9th Circuit, said he discovered the sexual content while monitoring the judge's Web site in December. Sanai said he downloaded the files, then started contacting reporters to bring attention to what he called widespread ethical problems on the 9th Circuit.