Isaacs Obscenity Case Goes to the Jury

LOS ANGELES—The week-long obscenity trial of producer and online retailer Ira Isaacs drew closer to its conclusion today as the prosecution played for the jury its final charged video, Japanese Doggie 3 Way, then rested its case.

The movie, which stars Japanese kink performer Mako, begins with the actress undressing and pleasuring herself in the passenger's seat of a van driving around a large city, but soon finds Mako in a house where a large dog is led in to lick her pussy. For most of the next hour, Mako is fucked by one of the two dogs appearing in the video, often while she's sucking on the other dog's cock. Of course, the dogs aren't actually doing the fucking; in fact, a "helper" keeps the dog erect by placing a "cock ring" around its ball sac and manipulating the dog's cock into Mako's pussy as both participants essentially squat in "doggie" position facing away from each other, with the helper pulling the cock between the dog's hind legs and sticking it in. There's also a sequence where somebody squirts a white liquid—we're guessing something akin to bacon grease—all over Mako's body (including her pussy, ass and lips) and the dogs lick it all off, apparently pleasuring Mako in the process. Still, it's a far cry from the scat videos the jury witnessed during the previous two days.

After the video ended, prosecutor Michael Grant asked a few more questions of LAPD Lieutenant Kyle Lewison about some further contacts he'd had with the defendant—notably what was later characterized as a "letter of congratulations" which Isaacs had sent to Lewison early last year—then turned the witness over to Isaacs' attorney Roger Jon Diamond for cross-examination.

Diamond elicited testimony from Lewison that porn is a "big industry" in Los Angeles, that there are "a few thousand" porn distributors here, and that he doesn't know if there's a large market for Japanese-language adult movies in the U.S.. He also testified that Isaacs had been "very cooperative" with the FBI/LAPD task force that had served a search warrant on his offices in January of 2007... and that he's aware that more than one adult convention is held annually at the L.A. Convention Center.

On redirect examination, Lewison also stated that as a member of LA's Vice Squad, he's investigated adult companies before, but has only seen material similar to the charged videos "a handful of times," and has never seen that type of material displayed at the local adult conventions. However, when asked by Diamond, he agreed that he has seen "hardcore sex acts" shown at the conventions, including gay performers having anal sex with each other. Grant then rested the government's case.

The court then took a short recess, during which time Isaacs disclosed a fact not previously revealed: That the FBI agents who searched his offices had originally said they were looking for evidence of underage performers—shades of 2257!—and only mentioned the impending obscenity charges after they'd been poking around for nearly seven hours.

With the jury still out of the room, the attorneys discussed with Judge George H. King whether Isaacs would be permitted, as part of his testimony, to play a seven-minute video he had created called "Post-Modern Madness (7 Minutes in Heaven)," which intercuts scenes or images from his scat movies with more mainstream pseudo-sexual images, occasionally interrupted by a title card flashing on the screen, reading "Big Brother Is Now." Eventually, Judge King ruled that the video was not relevant to the current proceedings since it had been created after the arrests had been made, and that in any case, it seemed to the judge to be an attempt to introduce the idea of "jury nullification" to the jury. Jury nullification is a process based on the right of juries to find a defendant not guilty even if they believe he violated the law with which he had been charged.

With his possible testimony so limited, and having been cautioned by the judge that he was not considered an "expert" in art and could not express opinions as to whether his own movies qualified as art, Isaacs took the stand. After giving the jury a little background on his early life, education and training, Isaacs stated that in 1999, as a supplement to his previously-existing advertising business, he posted some hardcore fetish videos to a website he'd created, mostly, he said, in order to learn how to be a webmaster, since creating web pages was new to him. But the response to his first postings were so economically successful that he continued to post others' videos and images, and also began to create movies himself, two of which were the charged features Hollywood Scat Amateurs (HSA) 7 and 10.

"My intent is to be a shock artist in the movies I made," he stated, "to challenge the viewer in thinking about art differently... to think about things they'd never thought about before."

Isaacs also ran down some of the people and things that influenced his own art, including a 1917 sculpture, "The Fountain," which consisted entirely of a urinal turned upside-down and signed by the artist, "R. Mutt"—who in reality was famous Surrealist painter Marcel Duchamp. According to Isaacs, he learned from that incident that, "You can't let subjective taste rule people in the art world."

Isaacs said he was also influenced by Neo-Dadaist painter Robert Rauschenberg's "White Paintings," monotone works that said to Isaacs that, "What you see on the surface is not necessarily what the painting is about." He also talked about sculptures by artist Kiki Smith which involved images of naked women urinating or excreting, and Italian artist Piero Manzoni's cans labeled "Artist Shit"—64 small tins filled to the top with the artist's own feces—which he sold to collectors around the world, including the Tate Museum in London.

"Feces is a good medium to make people stand up and think about art," Isaacs testified.

During cross-examination, CEOS Deputy Chief Damon King established that none of Isaacs' stated influences had been videos; all had been photos, paintings or sculptures. He also asked if one way to look at art differently is for guys to jack off to it, but Isaacs said he didn't know.

King then proceeded to go over the "overt acts" of creating, offering for sale and mailing the charged videos, and Isaacs readily agreed that he had indeed made some videos, acquired others, offered them all for sale on his various websites, and when orders came in, saw to it that the movies were duplicated and sent to the purchasers—including at least three government undercover agents.

Diamond's only redirect question was to ask Isaacs if he had a girlfriend, and had him point her out in the audience, after which the defense rested its case as well.

Following another recess, Judge King charged the jury on the law which it would apply to the case, being careful to note that even if the jury disagreed with the law, it was still their duty to follow it, and that they should use their "reason, experience and common sense" in evaluating the facts. He also gave instructions as to the Supreme Court's definition of "obscenity," hewing closely to the three prongs of the Miller test. He cautioned that it was the government's burden to prove that the charged videos "so exceeded contemporary community standards" as to be obscene; that the movies are their own best evidence of that, but that just because a movie contained sexual acts didn't mean it met the definition; and he defined "prurient interest" as a "morbid, degrading or unhealthy interest in sex."

"This case is about a choice... the defendant made," began Damon King's closing argument. He charged that Isaacs sold the videos mainly to make money rather than as an artistic statement, and noted that the defendant had not contested any of the facts about the movies' production or sale; only whether they fit the definition of obscenity, which he assured the jury that they did. He also said that if didn't matter if some people might find the videos to have artistic value; it was whether a "reasonable person" would do so.

"There is no question that the defendant was exploiting these videos" for their monetary value," he stated, adding that Isaacs "chose to exceed the limits of what the law allows."

When Diamond's turn at the podium came, he sought to compare Isaacs' business and productions to those of the "huge, large porn industry that is accepted" in the Los Angeles area and even holds conventions in the city to display its wares—though prosecutor King would later note that Lt. Lewison had stated that he'd never seen works like Isaacs' at any of the L.A. adult conventions.

Diamond went on to challenge several assumptions contained in the judge's instructions, reminding the jury that it should read those instructions carefully, especially those establishing the elements of the "crime." He noted that the jurors' personal tastes were not what is important—"You're gonna think the materials were disgusting and repulsive," he told them—but that they must consider the changing views of a society that is currently in the middle of a culture war.

"We don't know: Are you 'average' people? Are you 'reasonable' people?" Diamond asked. "How do you determine the 'average person'? ... That will be a difficult job for you to do."

He further challenged whether they even knew what the "standards" of the "community" that is the Central District of California is, warning ominously that, "You stand between the awesome power of government and the defendant who's being prosecuted."

Diamond also noted that it was the government's duty to prove that the charged videos lacked the requisite literary, artistic, political or scientific value, asserting that the government had delivered no such proof.

"It is pretty gross, what you watched, [but] was it totally lacking in artistic value?" he asked, then answered, "I say it is not."

He also declared that the videos have political value, if for no other reason than that they bear on the "reality that we may not have the total freedom the rest of the world thinks we have"; that the fact of the government bringing this obscenity case is evidence of that lack of total freedom. He also compared the government's reaction to Isaacs' movies as being similar to Muslims being upset at cartoon depictions of their prophet Mohammed, and reminded them that blasphemy is still punishable in some parts of the world, so it would be a "horrible mistake" to find his client guilty.

Prosecutor King then attempted to rebut some of Diamond's remarks, but it was clear that it was about time for the jury to begin deliberations. However, after Judge King read some final instructions to them about how they should go about deciding Isaacs' guilt or innocence, he sent them home for the weekend, ordering them to return at 8 a.m. Monday morning to consider the charges.

Check back with AVN to find out the jury's decision as soon as it's revealed.