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Obscenity-trial judge has own explicit site

He has called the material funny, odd and interesting. He granted a joint motion late yesterday to suspend the trial.

LOS ANGELES - One of the highest-ranking federal judges in the United States, who is presiding over an obscenity trial in Los Angeles, has maintained a publicly accessible Web site featuring sexually explicit photos and videos.

Alex Kozinski, chief judge of the San Francisco-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, acknowledged in an interview that he had posted the materials, which included a photo of naked women on all fours painted to look like cows and a video of a half-dressed man cavorting with a sexually aroused farm animal. Some of the material was inappropriate, he conceded, though he defended other sexually explicit content as "funny."

Kozinski, 57, said that he thought the site was for his private storage and that he was not aware the public could see the images, though he also said he had shared some material on the site with friends. After the interview Tuesday, he blocked public access to the site.

Late yesterday, the judge granted a joint motion to suspend the obscenity trial after the prosecution said it needed time to look into the issue of his Web site. On trial is a filmmaker, Ira Isaacs, who is accused of distributing criminally obscene sexual-fetish videos.

After details about the Web site were published online yesterday by the Los Angeles Times, the judge had offered to entertain motions to recuse himself from the trial.

Prosecutors said they were conferring with supervisors within the Justice Department about how to proceed. In the meantime, they wanted jurors to be admonished to disregard publicity in the case. Defense attorney Roger Diamond made no objection to Kozinski's continuing to hear the case.

Stephen Gillers, a New York University law professor who specializes in legal ethics, said Kozinski should recuse himself because "the public can reasonably question his objectivity" concerning the issues at hand.

Gillers, who has known Kozinski for years and called him "a treasure of the federal judiciary," said that he took the judge at his word that he did not know the site was publicly available, but that Kozinski was "seriously negligent" in allowing it to be discovered.

"The phrase

sober as a judge

resonates with the American public," Gillers said. "We don't want them to reveal their private selves publicly."

Kozinski said he would delete some material from his site, including the photo depicting women as cows, which he said was "degrading . . . and just gross." He also said he planned to get rid of a step-by-step pictorial in which a woman is seen shaving her pubic hair.

Kozinski said he must have accidentally uploaded those images to his server while intending to upload something else. "I would not keep those files intentionally," he said. The judge said he never used the appeals court's computers to maintain the site.

Kozinski, who was named chief judge last year, is considered a judicial conservative on most issues. He was appointed to the federal bench by President Ronald Reagan in 1985 and has a reputation as a champion of the First Amendment right to freedom of speech and expression.

Several years ago, for example, after learning that appeals court administrators had placed filters on computers that denied access to pornography and other materials, Kozinski led an effort to have the filters removed.

The judge said it was strictly by chance that he wound up presiding over the Isaacs trial in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. Appeals judges occasionally hear criminal cases when they have time, and the Isaacs case was one of two he was given, he said.

Kozinski said he didn't think any of the material he posted on his site would qualify as obscene.

"Is it prurient? I don't know what to tell you," he said. "I think it's odd and interesting. It's part of life."

Kozinski's site also included some of his essays and legal writings as well as music files and personal photos.

The judge said he began saving the sexually explicit materials and other items of interest years ago.

"People send me stuff like this all the time," he said.