By Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 12, 2008
A federal appeals court judge came under fire yesterday after a news report disclosed that he was presiding over a criminal obscenity trial even as graphic, sexually explicit material appeared in what he thought was a hidden part of his own Web site.
Alex Kozinski leads the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, one of the nation's largest and most prestigious legal assignments. For years, the judge has drawn notice for his wide-ranging, irreverent intellect and his vocal support for the First Amendment.
The Romanian immigrant was named to the bench by President Ronald Reagan in 1985, when he was 35 years old. Since then, Kozinski has made appearances on short lists of candidates for the Supreme Court, as well as a legal blog contest seeking "the #1 male super hottie" of the federal judiciary. Kozinski nominated himself for the latter post, and he won.
The judge did not return calls for comment yesterday. But he told the Los Angeles Times, which reported the incident, that he did not think the public could have viewed the explicit photos and videos, available on a subdirectory at Alex.Kozinski.com.
The material included a picture of naked women painted to look like cows, a short video of a man with a sexually excited farm animal, and images of masturbation, contortionism and transsexuals, the newspaper said. Access to the site has since been blocked, though records confirm it dates back to 2004.
Cathy Catterson, the executive who manages the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, said the computer server at issue is private property, maintained by one of Kozinski's sons, who downloaded "some but not all" of the images in question.
"The bottom line is: The server and contents are a private matter, and it was not meant to be accessed by others," Catterson said. "Had he known, he would have been more careful of its contents."
Legal ethics experts predicted that the disclosure of Kozinski's Web site would draw formal complaints from members of the public. But the code of conduct on Internet postings by federal judges is far from clear.
As a federal judge confirmed by the Senate, Kozinski has lifetime tenure and could be removed from office only for an impeachable offense. Historically, a small number of judges have been publicly reprimanded and had their caseloads reduced as punishment for various infractions.
The issue came into focus on the same day that Kozinski heard opening arguments in the obscenity prosecution of Ira Isaacs, a self-described "shock artist" who peddled movies that portrayed bestiality and sexual incidents involving urine and feces.
Kozinski later yesterday granted a motion to suspend the trial until Monday after prosecutors said they need time to look into the Web site issue.