LOS ANGELES – The criminal prosecution of a hard-core pornographer turned into a personal trial for the presiding judge, who called for an investigation Thursday into his own conduct over lewd photos and videos stored on his family’s publicly accessible Web site.
Alex Kozinski, chief judge of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, asked an ethics panel of the court to initiate proceedings after the disclosure about his trove of sexually explicit material.
“I will cooperate fully in any investigation,” Kozinski said in a statement.
Kozinski, 57, left court Wednesday without comment after suspending the trial of Ira Isaacs, who is charged with obscenity for selling movies depicting bestiality and fetishes involving feces and urination. The delay until Monday will give lawyers time to consider whether to ask for Kozinski to step down from the case.
The Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday that Kozinski had posted sexual material on his personal Web site and then blocked access after being interviewed about it Tuesday evening. He told the Times he was responsible for posting at least some of the images and videos.
The computerized cache included a picture of two nude women on all fours painted to look like Holstein dairy cows and a slide show featuring a striptease with a transsexual.
“If you found this kind of thing in your kid’s bedroom you would wash your kid’s mouth out with soap. We expect more from a judge,” said Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor and law professor at Loyola University Law School. “Character counts for judges because they have so much power and affect so many people’s lives.”
Kozinski, who has been mentioned as a possible Supreme Court candidate, is known for his intellectual rigor, writing flourishes and an outlandish – some say boorish – personality.
But the graphic material has opened questions about his fitness to serve on the high-profile obscenity case as well as the standard for what types of images are taboo, particularly on a judge’s personal Web site.
Although he requested an investigation, it’s unclear what, if any, discipline Kozinski could face. Circuit judges are appointed for life and can be fired only by Congress, though fellow jurists can censure them.
Kozinski asked Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts to assign the inquiry to a panel of judges outside the 9th Circuit’s jurisdiction of nine Western states. Court rules permit such investigations to be transferred in high-profile cases or when a decision within a district might weaken public confidence in the outcome.
Kozinski did not immediately respond to a request for an interview Thursday.
Federal rules say judges should “act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.” But does material on a judge’s personal Web site cross that line?
“Even if it is private, the problem for him is the cat is out of the bag,” said Tom Fitton, president of conservative Judicial Watch. “You’re going to have questions about his impartiality.”