PITTSBURGH – Robert Zicari and his wife, Janet Romano, owners of the now-defunct adult production house Extreme Associates, were sentenced Wednesday to one year plus a day in federal prison after pleading guilty in March to one count each of conspiracy to distribute obscene materials.
Zicari and Romano – aka Rob Black and Lizzy Borden – were originally indicted in 2003 in Pennnsylvania on obscenity charges related to three videos sold through the mail and six video clips distributed online.
The indicted videos were Forced Entry – Director’s Cut and Cocktails #2 – Director’s Cut, both directed by Borden, and Extreme Teen #24, which was credited to “Stanley Ferrara.”
The couple fought the charges for nearly six years in highly-publicized court cases that took the pair on a roller-coaster ride of rulings and emotions, right up until the decision earlier this year to “get on with their lives.”
On Wednesday, defense attorney H. Louis Sirkin said he “was disappointed” in the sentences handed to “two people [the defense team has] grown to love.”
“We were hoping for probation or house arrest,” he told Daily Babylon. “They didn’t get any fines, so that was good.”
He also said relevant sentencing guidelines recommended 21-27 months; Zicari and Romano received roughly half the minimum recommended sentence. The prison terms imposed upon Zicari and Romano were 34 months shorter than the one handed Paul Little, aka Max Hardcore, in a similar case. Little was prosecuted in Florida.
Sirkin said throughout the nearly six-year ordeal the prosecution repeatedly referred to the so-called “Cambria List,” a partial inventory of subject matter best avoided in sexually explicit content. The list was drafted by noted adult industry attorney Paul Cambria in response to client concerns following the 2000 election of conservative Republican President George W. Bush and his subsequent appointment of arch-conservative religious fundamentalist John Ashcroft as Attorney General of the United States.
“The Cambria List is pretty mellow yellow,” Sirkin said, indicating the most “extreme” conduct included on the list seems tame by 2009 standards.
However, according to Sirkin, since the list arose within the adult entertainment industry and has been discussed publicly ad nauseum, the prosecution in the Zicari-Romano case seemed to feel the list was a reasonable standard by which to judge the sorts of material even the adult industry considered potentially beyond the boundaries of public tolerance. Forced sex and violent rape, two of the topics specifically mentioned on the Cambria List, were among the depictions called “obscene” during the Zicari-Romano prosecution.
In addition, Sirkin said, he has no doubt the prosecution’s fervor was fueled by commentary within the industry. He cautioned industry insiders against using terms like “extreme” to refer to other producers’ content, especially in comparison to their own, even when extolling the virtues of free speech. Public tolerance varies from area to area, he noted, but all sexually explicit speech between consenting adults should be viewed as protected under the First Amendment.
In other words, in its own words the adult industry sometimes condemns certain types of sexually explicit speech as less permissible than other types of sexually explicit speech.
“There’s a big territory east of [socially liberal] California [where the majority of American adult studios are located], you know,” he said.
In Jan. 2005, U.S. District Judge Gary L. Lancaster dismissed the original charges on First Amendment right-to-privacy grounds. The government appealed, and in December 2005, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the charges, ruling that U.S. Supreme Court decisions established obscenity is not shielded by the First Amendment, even in individuals’ homes.
“Because we conclude that the district court improperly set aside applicable Supreme Court precedent which has repeatedly upheld federal statutes regulating the distribution of obscenity in the face of both First Amendment and substantive due process attacks, we will reverse the judgment of the district court,” the ruling said.
Extreme appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which, in May 2006 denied certiorari, and the case was sent back to the district court. The case lay fallow until mid-2008, when a court clerk discovered expected hearings never had been scheduled. Following a predictable media ruckus, the oversight was corrected.
Then, in March 2009, the couple surprised the industry by entering guilty pleas. Sirkin said at the time that sentencing discussions had been ongoing for a month, and that he planned to seek prison terms of 10-16 months for each defendant, half of which could be served in a halfway house.
The prosecutor in the case, U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan, said at the time she would seek prison sentences of 27-33 months plus fines of $250,000 and post-release probation of five years per person. The maximum penalty under federal sentencing guidelines is 60 months in prison or a fine of as much as $250,000 or both for Zicari and Romano, plus a fine of up to $500,000 and five years’ probation for their company.
Today’s sentence obviously was in line with what Sirkin was seeking for his clients, and far less than what Buchanan sought.
(Photo: Luke Ford)