On Monday, I reported on an obscenity trial of a porn producer who is being prosecuted in federal court here in California. Now, this amazing turn of events:

A closely watched obscenity trial in Los Angeles federal court was suspended Wednesday after the judge acknowledged maintaining his own publicly accessible website featuring sexually explicit photos and videos.

Alex Kozinski, chief judge of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, granted a 48-hour stay in the obscenity trial of a Hollywood adult filmmaker after the prosecutor requested time to explore “a potential conflict of interest concerning the court having a . . . sexually explicit website with similar material to what is on trial here.”

In an interview Tuesday with The Times, Kozinski acknowledged posting sexual content on his website. Among the images on the site were 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. He defended some of the adult content as “funny” but conceded that other postings were inappropriate.

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.

Kozinski is one of the nation’s highest-ranking judges and has been mentioned as a possible candidate for the U.S. Supreme Court. He was named chief judge of the 9th Circuit last year and is considered a judicial conservative on most issues. He was appointed to the federal bench by President Reagan in 1985.

Kozinski has a reputation as a brilliant legal mind and is seen as a champion of the 1st Amendment right to freedom of speech and expression. Several years 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.

I don’t know what to make of this, exactly. First, it seems obvious that this may damage Kozinski’s career as a federal judge. Second, Kozinski is a phenomenally successful pro-liberty judge, so this is a blow to libertarians like me.

Third, it’s  interesting that this happened in the middle of this particular trial, and it’s hugely ironic too considering that the prosecution’s case against porn producer Isaacs relies on a definition of obscenity as being material that reputable kinds of people like federal judges would find offensive!  But if material of this nature is so prevalent that a top federal judge has it on his website, isn’t that at least part of a case in itself against the prosecution?

I’d love to think that this could have been Kozinski’s way of giving his ruling on the case. To prove, by example, that the material the prosecution wishes to outlaw is so prevalent as to have been present on the website of the very judge in the very court holding the trial! I’d love to think that. There’s also something very cool about the idea of the judge volunteering to take a bullet for the sake of liberty, exposing the rot in the system of which he is a part, in order to take it down. Sort of a Life of David Gale thing. I’d love to think that.

Alas, I think this was merely a mistake, and a costly one. I sure hope this strange turn of events doesn’t help the case of the prosecution – the US Justice Department – in their patronizing, moralizing attempt at ‘justice’ on ‘obscenity’, and let this post explain why I don’t think it should.

Watch this space… it’s going to continue to be very interesting. (For a better background on the judge at the centre of this story, see the California Lawyer profile entitled Just Being Kozinski.)