One of the highest-ranking federal judges in the United States, who is currently presiding over an obscenity trial in Los Angeles, has maintained a publicly accessible website featuring sexually explicit photos and videos.
Alex Kozinski, chief judge of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, acknowledged in an interview with The Times 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, although 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 images could be seen by the public, although he also said he had shared some material on the site with friends. After the interview Tuesday evening, he blocked public access to the site.
Asked whether the contents of his site should force him to step aside from the pending obscenity trial, Kozinski declined to comment. Opening statements in the trial are scheduled for this morning. In the case, Ira Isaacs, a filmmaker based in Los Angeles, is accused of distributing criminally obscene sexual-fetish videos depicting bestiality and defecation.
Stephen Gillers, a New York University law professor who specializes in legal ethics, told The Times that Kozinski should recuse himself from the Isaacs case 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 he took the judge at his word that he did not know the site was publicly available. But he said 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. This is going to upset a lot of people."
Gillers said the disclosure would be humiliating for Kozinski and would "harm his reputation in many quarters," but that the controversy should die there.
He added, however, that if the public concludes the website was intended for the sharing of pornographic material, "that's a transgression of another order."
"It would be very hard for him to come back from that," he said.
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 graphic 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 pointed out that he never used appeals court computers to maintain the site.
The sexually explicit material on Kozinski's site earlier this week was extensive, including images of masturbation, public sex and contortionist sex. There was a slide show striptease featuring a transsexual, and a folder that contained a series of photos of women's crotches as seen through snug fitting clothing or underwear. There were also themes of defecation and urination, though they are not presented in a sexual context.
Kozinski, who was named chief judge of the 9th Circuit last year, is considered a judicial conservative on most issues. He was appointed to the federal bench by then-President Ronald Reagan in 1985. He has a national reputation for a brilliant legal mind and has developed a reputation as a champion of the First Amendment right to freedom of speech and expression. Several year ago, for example, after learning that appeals court administrators had placed filters on computers that denied access to pornography and other materials, Kozinski led a successful effort to have the filters removed.
The judge said it was strictly by chance that he wound up presiding over the Issacs trial in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. Appeals court judges occasionally hear criminal cases when they have free time on their calendars and the Isaacs case was one of two he was given, the judge said.
Kozinski said he didn't think any of the material he posted on his website 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."
Before the site was taken down, visitors to http://alex.kozinski.com were greeted with the message: "Ain't nothin' here. Y'all best be movin' on, compadre."
Only those who knew to type in the name of a subdirectory could see the content on the site, which also included some of Kozinski's 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.
He keeps the things he finds interesting or funny with the thought that he might later pass them on to friends, he said.
Times staff writers Ben Welsh and Eric Ulken contributed to this report.