Even Judges Cause Themselves Problems Online

Judge Alex Kozinski, who is the Chief Judge of the Federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, found himself in the awkward position of occupying the limelight during a criminal obscenity trial due to materials on his website.  Apparently appellate judges will sometimes preside over lower court criminal trials when their schedule allows.  Thus Judge Kozinski came to preside over the criminal obscenity trial of adult film maker Ira Isaacs. Isaacs was charged with criminal obscenity for producing fetish films that featured bestiality and defecation.  Someone tipped off the LA Times that there was “similar material” posted at http://alex.kozinski.com. (This website has since been made inaccessible.)  The prosecution asked for a recess while they decided whether to seek his recusal on grounds of conflict of interest.  Actual examples of the materials on the Judge’s website are available here. (Warning: Contains some NSFW images.)

The materials at issue were contained on a subdomain of the Judge’s website that only could be reached by typing the exact URL.  It was not, however, password protected. In other words, you could only find the materials if you knew where to look, but if you knew the URL they were readily accessible.  I haven’t seen any Ira Isaacs films so I don’t know what those images are like.  But according to the video of a news report here, the Isaacs films are about as vile and disgusting as a film can get.

Ironically, Judge Kozinski is an advocate of the First Amendment and privacy rights.  When he discovered that court administrators had placed pornography blocking filters on court computers, he led the effort to get the filters removed. Frankly, I’m much more upset by the idea that he defended the ability of government employees to use government computers to view pornography (probably on government time) than I am by the idea that he has some tastelessly “humorous” photos on his private website. I can’t see any reason for government employees to have access to porn at work, including salaried Federal judges.

The Judge’s website was maintained on his private PC and used no government resources.  The Judge thought that his website was “private storage” and not publicly accessible, but the bottom line is that no one is immune from embarassing themselves online.  There is always the risk that anything posted online can be found.  The Judge could have saved himself a lot of embarassment by not posting potentially embarassing materials to a website. All he had to do was keep them offline.