The Recording Industry Assn. of America pledged Wednesday to provide legal and financial assistance to Terry Worrell, president of the Dallas-based, 140-store Sound Warehouse chain, during his company's upcoming trial.
This is the second time in recent months that the association, which represents the nation's biggest record companies, has lent its resources in an obscenity-related court case.
The Dallas issue revolves around a July 27 incident in which the district attorney's office sent a 13-year-old boy undercover to a Sound Warehouse retail outlet to purchase a copy of rap group 2 Live Crew's sexually explicit "As Nasty as They Wanna Be" album.
Sound Warehouse--along with the 119-outlet Western Merchandisers, parent company of Hasting Records and Tapes--was charged with selling obscene material, the first time a chain has been cited at the corporate level for this offense. The case is expected to go to trial in February.
"In an era of precedent-setting obscenity cases, this one takes the cake," Trish Heimers, an RIAA spokeswoman said on Wednesday. "It's a blatant act of censorship."
The announcement is the latest evidence of the more aggressive anti-censorship stance promised by the RIAA in June after 2 Live Crew's "Nasty" album was deemed obscene by a federal judge in Florida.
In the Dallas case, Sound Warehouse is being charged with nine counts of distributing obscene materials to adults or minors, a misdemeanor. Western Merchandisers is charged with one count. If convicted, each corporation faces a maximum penalty of $10,000 per count.
Sound Warehouse's Worrell called the prosecution a constitutional violation.
"This is not a 2 Live Crew issue, it's a First Amendment issue," he said in a telephone interview. "Under our constitution, this prosecutor has no business censoring what Texans can purchase to listen to in the privacy of their own home and we aim to prove that in court."
David Pickett, the assistant district attorney for Dallas County who filed the charges against Sound Warehouse and Western Merchandisers, said both retail chains deserve to be convicted of distributing obscene material.
"What we're trying to do is make a statement here," Pickett said in a telephone interview. "We're trying to make the government aware of the widespread distribution of obscene materials occurring in the record industry."
The district attorney's office, Pickett said, hopes to extend its probe to include third-degree felony charges for wholesale distribution of pornography against Sound Warehouse's parent company, the Los Angeles-based Shamrock Holdings Inc.
Pickett, who took a leave of absence on Sept. 1 from his post as assistant district attorney to run for a criminal district court judgeship in the Dallas County Nov. 6 election, said he will start subpoenaing invoices from the corporation in January.
Dana Kornbluth, a spokeswoman for the National Assn. of Recording Merchandisers, which is also expected to lend legal support to Sound Warehouse, accused Pickett of "political grandstanding."
But Pickett denies any political motivation on his part.
"I'm the chief prosecutor of organized crime in Dallas," he said. "Part of my job is to prosecute obscenity. That's what I do."