Jury Selected, Testimony Begins in Isaacs Obscenity Trial

LOS ANGELES—With the obscenity trial of producer/retailer Ira Isaacs entering its third day, an early morning conference between Justice Department attorneys Damon King and Michael Grant, defense attorney Roger Jon Diamond and Judge George H. King resolved the problem of finding a panel of qualified juror panelists from which to select the jury that would hear the charges of making and selling obscene material that had been filed against Isaacs.

Over the past two days, two different panels of approximately 100 possible jurors each filled out questionnaires asking, among other things, whether they would have a problem watching and discussing sexually oriented videos with each other, and whether they had any religious or other objections to sexually explicit material. Answer choices were generally "yes," "no" or "unsure," and it was the agreement of all parties that not only would those who answered that they would definitely have problems with the material were excused from consideration, but also those who answered that they were unsure whether they could deal with the evidence.

That pruning left just 38 possible jurors in the selection panel, and both sides were allowed peremptory challenges—six for the government, 10 for the defense—to bring that number down to a jury of 12 plus two alternates. The end result was a jury consisting of eight men and four women, most of whom appeared to be in their early 30s to mid-40s, and included three who appeared to be Asian.

That last fact might be important, since two of the movies being charged were shot in Japan with the performers speaking Japanese, and even before the jury was selected, there was some controversy over whether the court should provide videos with English subtitles so the jury could understand what was being said as they watched the action, or even a live translator who could translate the actors' words on the fly, rather than the transcripts that the government had already had prepared by its own translator.

In the end, it was decided to trust the government's transcriptions of the movies, and during his opening instructions to the jury, Judge King cautioned the jurors that even if they spoke Japanese, they should rely on the government's translation of the movies' scripts rather than attempt to translate the dialog on their own.

Judge King also read to the jury a boilerplate instruction on obscenity that has been approved by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which set forth the three "prongs" of the decision in Miller v. California which now forms the basis of all obscenity prosecutions. He also told the jurors that the government need not provide any affirmative evidence of the works' "obscenity," but that the jurors could determine that for themselves after having watched the movies in their entirety.

The judge also said that the "community standards" that they should consider were those of the entire Central District of California, which extends as far north as San Luis Obispo County and as far east as San Bernardino and Riverside Counties, and he warned that jurors should not judge the materials by their own personal standards but should apply the standards of the community. (How those jurors, most of whom have likely never discussed their sexual preferences with their neighbors, were supposed to determine what those neighbors' "community standards" were was not discussed.)

Grant delivered the opening statement for the government, and his primary contention was that Isaacs was only in the business of selling the charged movies for financial gain rather than for any artistic purpose, as Isaacs has previously claimed. Grant railed against the movies' "depraved depictions of sexual conduct," and called the videos themselves the "best evidence of how obscene the videos actually are." He also gave a synopsis of the government's investigation of Isaacs, which apparently started in 2004, tracing the various agents who ordered the charged movies from Isaacs' websites, and noted that Isaacs' former secretary would be a prosecution witness.

For his part, Diamond tried to keep the jury's focus on the primary question of the trial, which was whether the four charged movies were "obscene." He argued that it didn't matter how long the government had been investigating Isaacs, how many agents had been assigned, how the videos were bought or even how many websites Isaacs owned. He stated that Isaacs had always been open about his business and had never tried to conceal anything from the investigators, and he compared Isaacs' business of selling "pornography" to that same business being conducted by multiple companies based in and around Los Angeles. He also said that Isaacs would take the witness stand to testify as to his intentions in making the movies he himself directed, and would give the jurors some idea of the artistic basis for scatological ("scat") movies.

"The question is the movies," Diamond stated, "whether they're legally obscene... not whether they're unpleasant [to watch]."

After Diamond completed his opening remarks, Grant read from a long stipulation of facts that the prosecution and defense had agreed upon, which mainly related to what the government had found during the course of its investigation and how it had obtained copies of the charged movies, then called his first witness to the stand, FBI Special Agent James Myrick.

Myrick essentially repeated many of the facts contained in the stipulation, but set the basis for how the FBI had obtained a copy of the charged movie Mako's First Time Scat, which the government proceeded to play for the jury.

The two-hour movie is centered around Japanese actress Mako, who is first seen discussing her first sexual experiences with an off-screen partner. The subject quickly comes around to scat, and Mako tells the guy that her first encounter with shit was when she was in the 11th grade and looked at one of her older brother's scat videos—which, she said, inspired her to wonder what it would be like to eat shit. She later admitted to having eaten the shit of 15 guys.

What follows is fetish action that would generally be described as bondage and domination (B&D), as Mako is slapped in the face several times by her partner, who also sticks his fingers down her throat to get her to vomit, though what comes out appears to be mainly saliva. He also pees in her mouth, collects her own urine in a bowl and pours it over her—and in one of those quirks of Japanese censorship, the head of his penis is computer-masked but not the substance that comes out of it.

Indeed, this movie might provide an excellent case study of the criteria of Japanese censors in deciding what actions/body parts the "powers that be" consider worthy of trying to distort in an effort to disguise their nature, and which actions/body parts are okay to leave alone. For instance, in the second scene, the guy hands Mako a snake-like vibrator, which she proceeds to insert into her ass, but there's no masking of that activity—nor of the fingers her partner inserts into her ass and pussy that eventually bring her to orgasm.

But the scene most likely to offend the jurors' sensibilities (unless they follow the judge's instruction to leave their personal tastes outside the deliberation room) is the third scene, which has the guy fingering Mako's ass, and when he removes them, fecally covered, he inserts the fingers in Mako's mouth and she licks them clean.

The scat action only escalates from there, with the camera somehow entering Mako's ass until it approaches the feces inside, and the audience is "treated" to a weird collage of reddish skin and fecal liquid rubbing together. This inspires Mako to shit, and conveniently, her partner has a plate ready to catch her droppings. He then squeezes water into her ass via a large syringe, and when she expels the brown liquid, he mixes it with her droppings and feeds it to her, then smears her face and hair with the remaining portion... until she takes over the make-over herself! Eventually, the guy fucks her in several positions in both her pussy and ass, and after he cums in her ass, he quickly places a champagne glass under the orifice to catch his semen when she expels it... and makes her drink it.

The final scene has Mako bound and suspended, with the guy slapping her face several times, then slapping and whipping her ass as she cries and screams, until he finally unties her and holds her close, apparently soothing the pain away.

What's clear, however, is that someone watching the movie without the benefit of the dialog being translated is at a definite disadvantage, since much of the motivations for the action is expressed in the conversation between the performers.

To be sure, Mako's First Time Scat is substantially different from anything released by the "mainstream" adult industry, even though it contains several minutes of "regular" sex—mainly mish, doggie and cowgirl. But adult industry members may want to consider that if Isaacs is convicted of obscenity for this material, that the government "win" may simply be the first step in another series of federal obscenity prosecutions, especially if a Republican is elected president in November.

Trial will continue at 8 a.m. Thursday, with the prosecution estimating that its case, including screening the three remaining movies, should be completed by Friday morning, and the defense estimating that its case should last no more than another day, perhaps leaving the case in the hands of the jury sometime Monday.