Last month I went to Washington DC to cover the obscenity trial of former Vegas show producer John Stagliano. My coverage can be read at Reason, a libertarian think-tank. Full disclosure: Stagliano is a friend.
But friendship was not what brought me to Washington DC. The Stagliano case mattered, because immense government resources were going to investigate and prosecute someone over an FBI agent’s bad movie review. The movies in question were no different than hundreds of other porn movies available at stores all over the nation’s capitol. But, as the trial revealed, Stagliano was specifically targeted before the movies were selected and special ordered by the FBI who paid for them with tax dollars.
In the end, the government’s inept handling of the case forced the judge to acquit Stagliano after the prosecution rested. So, the jury never ruled on the movies.
I recently did a follow-up interview with Stagliano by phone to get his reflections on the case as well as to find out if another Vegas show is in his plans.
Abowitz: Looking back, do you think the justice system worked in United States Vs. John Stagliano?
Stagliano: I think the American justice system worked okay. It works better than just about any other country. I would not say it is perfect.
Q: How significant was it that you had enough money to finance your defense?
A: That was pretty significant. But even if I didn’t have the money, I would have schooled my public defender in the right arguments, and that would have given me a chance with the jury. I certainly had a much better chance with great lawyers. And, I don’t think I would have gotten a judicial acquittal without great, great lawyers. But it is not a forgone conclusion that I would have lost. I don’t believe the system is ruled by money, there are elements of principals.
Q: So, what are your plans now that the case is over?
A: I have lots of projects in the works. I am working on a mainstream movie or two, and a political advocacy video on the Federal Reserve. It is an animated movie. With or without this trial, I was not planning on doing a lot of porn. The trial did not change my mix of work, if that is what you are interested in.
Q: Yes, and, when you are going to make another adult movie?
A: When I feel like it.
Q: Is there a date on that?
A: I don’t know. I have got other projects I am working on right now.
Q: Do they include doing another Vegas show?
A: It would be really nice to do another show in Vegas, but my plans do not include working on one for at least the next six months.
Q: To be clear, you have no plans to make any adult movies?
A: I have several scripts I am interested in doing. I just don’t know when.
Q: Will the trial impact how you make movies in the future?
A: It probably will. But I am not sure what that will be. I am certainly going to think, “Well, how’s this going to play in front of a jury?” I will have my arguments ready in advance. However, I am vulnerable. Anytime hard-core porn is shown to a group of people who don’t want to watch it, they are repulsed. They could vote as a jury to show that they don’t tolerate stuff that is outside the norm.
Q: It sounds like you were watching the jury watch the movies?
A: I was watching the jury watch the movies. They were watching something never meant to be played in a courtroom. It was only meant to be played in the privacy of the home when someone is interested in finding something to be sexually aroused by.
Q: Do you have a definition of obscenity?
A: To me obscenity is completely outside the political realm. I don’t think any visual image should be considered illegal. It is acts that people commit that are criminal. Selling people a picture should never be criminal. If the picture shows an illegal act, then it is evidence. Selling a picture should never be a crime, because it is a picture. Government needs to be strictly limited in terms of power.
Q: Do you think the failure of the Justice Department in the case against you will impact if the Justice Department continues to do more adult to adult obscenity prosecutions?
A: That is a good question. We don’t know. Certainly, they are going to think about it more. It would be nice to have the public know what goes on at the Justice Department since we pay their salaries. But unfortunately the government decides a lot of things in secret and I suspect this will be one of them.
Q: Do you think your political activism had anything to do with the decision to prosecute you?
A: That would be interesting and flattering. It would make a nice sinister subplot in my autobiography.
Q: Are you writing an autobiography?
A: It could happen in about twenty years. I would be 78. I have a lot of things to do in the next 20 years. I really wouldn’t want to write one right now. I don’t feel an obligation like Obama to do two autobiographies before 50. (Photo: Lanie Crossman)