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Contempt Charges Against Flynt Dismissed

Times Staff Writer

A federal appeals court in San Francisco Thursday erased a string of contempt-of-court citations against Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt, saying it was time “to draw the curtain on a seamy and tawdry affair.”

The ruling by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals also vacated the 15 months in sentences imposed on Flynt, who was released from custody after serving five months.

In a 36-page opinion written by Judge Stephen Reinhardt, the appellate court stated that it normally would send the matter back to trial court judges for further handling but decided instead to wipe out the case because “it would not be in the best interests of the judicial system or the public to prolong this travesty.”

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The appeals court expressed doubt in the opinion about whether Flynt had the mental capacity to commit contempt of court during the string of courtroom incidents in late 1983 and early 1984.

One of the contempt citations stemmed from Flynt’s conduct at his arraignment on charges of desecrating an American flag by wearing it to court as a diaper and also pinning an unauthorized Purple Heart medal to his shirt.

Shouted at Magistrate

Flynt, who is paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair, shouted a series of remarks at U.S. Magistrate James W. McMahon during the arraignment that the court described as “insulting, abusive and obscene.”

In a subsequent appearance before Chief U.S. District Judge Manuel Real, Flynt engaged in repeated outbursts with the jurist, who four times cited him for contempt and had him gagged in the courtroom.

During that hearing, Flynt’s attorney told Real that Flynt’s defense to the previous contempt would center on the introduction of psychiatric testimony showing that he lacked the requisite mental capacity to commit contempt. The appellate court said Real erred when he denied Flynt a 30-day continuance to properly prepare this type of defense.

“There can be no question that the type of conduct in which Flynt engaged cannot be tolerated in a courtroom,” Reinhardt wrote in the opinion, but added: “No matter how opprobrious an offense, every person is entitled to have his guilt or innocence determined in a manner that complies with our rules, laws and Constitution.”


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