Maryland's Acting Gov. Blair Lee III asked the legislature today to adopt an emergency measure replacing the statewide anti-obscenity law, which was declared unconstitutional last month.
Lee's push for the new legislation came one day after the absence of a law caused a Baltimore County judge to order the return of $1 million worth of sexually explicit films, magazines and other goods confiscated from one of the major pornography wholesalers in the Baltimore-Washington area.
Baltimore County Judge Edward A. DeWaters Jr. said Wednesday that he regretted having to return the material to the Noble News Co. but he had no choice in light of the recent Court of Appeals decision. The Noble firm was convicted last October of distributing obscene materials.
The high court ruling on Dec. 12 left Maryland virtually without any laws controlling the distribution of sexually explicit material to adults, although several laws forbidding the distribution of abscene material to juveniles will remain in effect.
The decision also left in limbo a number of local obscenity prosecutions, including one involving a major pornography distributor in Prince George's County.
In Prince George's County Circuit Court, adult bookstore owner Dennis E. Pryba faces obsecenity charges in connection with material sold through his Forestville warehouse and two adult bookstores in the county. His lawyer has cited the Maryland appellate decision in arguing that the charges should be dismissed, a motion still under consideration.
To remedy the defects that the court found in the old law, Lee said today that his proposal would exempt from prosecution most employees of pornographic bookstores and movie houses. The law would apply only to those who have a direct financial interest in the pornographic enterprise.
The Court of Appeals had object to the old antiobscenity statute because it allowed the employees of pornographic book stores to be prosecuted, while exempting from prosecution the employees of theaters showing pornographic films.
Under the proposed legislation both classes of employees would be exempt from prosecution, Lee said, "but if a person) is part of management, watch out."
The acting governor said that he was requesting the legislation on an emergency basis - which would allow it to take effect immediately after being passed by the legislature and signed by Lee - because "right now we stand defenseless against the free flow of obscene material in Maryland."
State Attorney General Francis B. Burch has also announced his own plans to remedy the situation, and has already filed a motion asking the Court of Appeal to reconsider its ruling.
Even before the acting governor moved today to reinstitute a state antiobscenity law, the Montgomery County Council, after prompting by State's Attorney Andrew Sonner introduced a bill to end the distribution of obscene materials within its boundaries.