Closed-Door Wrangling Delays Start of Stagliano Trial

WASHINGTON, D.C."Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it's awful," as Samuel Beckett wrote in Waiting for Godot.

Indeed, that's pretty much what happened on what was supposed to be the second day of the John Stagliano/Evil Angel obscenity trial. A hearing which had originally been called for 2 p.m. was rescheduled at the last moment until 3, and about 10 minutes after the defendant and the attorneys for both sides had entered, along with a small cadre of journalists and a slightly larger contingent of what appeared to be law clerks, the court clerk announced that the proceedings were to be closed to the public, requiring everyone but the attorneys to leave the room.

The reporters and law clerks filed out—only to be surprised a few minutes later that another person had also been ejected from the closed-door session: John Stagliano himself.

Although the attorneys have been ordered by presiding Judge Richard J. Leon not to talk to the press, it was apparent from the large stack of papers delivered to the courtroom by one of the defense assistants that what was being discussed, as had been true on Wednesday, were the jury questionnaires filled out by the approximately 120 potential jurors in the case. However, why Judge Leon closed the courtroom while they were discussed remains a mystery.

As longtime AVN readers know, in all of the federal obscenity cases over the past three years that AVN has covered—Five Star Video in Phoenix (a case which originally included JM Productions as a defendant), Max Hardcore in Tampa, and Ira Isaacs in Los Angeles—at no time did the presiding judge in any of those cases require the courtroom to be cleared of spectators while jury selection was taking place. In each case, each potential juror was given a number—as is likely also the case in the current proceeding—and when the situation of a particular potential juror was discussed in open court, that person was always referred to by his or her number in order to protect the person's privacy. It is unclear why that procedure has so far not been followed in Judge Leon's court.

Of course, judges have wide latitude as to how they can conduct proceedings in their courtrooms, but the ejection of the defendant even at this stage of the trial is unusual—and possibly legally problematic under both the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. Certainly, if anyone has a vested "due process" interest in how jurors are selected for a trial, it is the defendant whose guilt or innocence will be in those jurors' hands.

As Stagliano waited in the sixth-floor hallway with the journalists and law clerks, he appeared visibly upset at having been ejected—something his attorneys were no doubt aware of, because after about 15 minutes, he was allowed to reenter the courtroom. Except for a five-minute break later on, that was the last that any of the spectators saw of him or the attorneys until 6:35 this evening, when Judge Leon adjourned court for the day, to be continued at 10 a.m. on Friday.

Stagliano also expressed particular dismay that the three reporters covering the case—one from AVN, one from XBIZ and one from the National Law Journal—were being denied access to the proceedings since, as a fervent believer in the Constitution, Stagliano was well aware that journalists are among the first lines of defense against unchecked governmental and judicial power, and he had earlier expressed hope that every phase of his trial would be observed and analyzed by the press.

But as the Little Orphan Annie character once sang, "Tomorrow is another day"—and hopefully, all of this closed-door wrangling about jurors will lead to a quicker selection of the trial jury and possibly even the beginning of the trial itself as early as tomorrow afternoon.

But frankly, none of the observers is counting too heavily on that.