american porn
homewatch the programprosecutingthe businessspecial reportsdiscussion
photo of sanchezwarning:  sections of this interview contain explicit descriptions of sexual acts
interview: deborah sanchez

... There's apparently a lot of this stuff out there. Apparently a lot of it crosses your desk. Show me how common sense kicks in, where you can just look at this kind of material and say--

I'll tell you how it kicks in. I'm a regular member of the public. I'm just a woman out there in the world trying to make a living, be involved with my family, hopefully advancing my career. I have all the things that every regular person wants to have, in terms of goals and things like that. And a family.

But I guess when I look at something like a pornography video that has gone to the extreme, that I know that I'm that regular person out there in the community. And we try to see what the community will accept as a yardstick, because that's really where the law kicks in.

Bring me through that process. What is it that's making you say "Wow"?

The police department brings me things that are very extreme. They don't bring me junk. They don't bring me stuff that's on the borderline. They bring me things that are really over the line. I've seen things like bestiality. I've also seen films in training that depict a woman being murdered during a sex act and things like that, with blood and the goriness of it.

We don't prosecute people having sex with each other, even if it's a situation where there's a lot of people. It doesn't matter if it's vaginal intercourse, anal intercourse. We don't prosecute things if it's just that, but, say, urination and defecation in conjunction with sex acts; also maybe scenes where there's a rape involved that's involved with the sex act, and that's the focus of the video.

I think also there is just other things that are just so far out. ...We don't prosecute extreme. We prosecute the very extreme, in my opinion.

Sanchez is the deputy city attorney in Los Angeles prosecuting the Adam Glasser case. Here, she discusses the offensive elements in Glasser's film and how she arrives at a definition of what is prosecutable under obscenity law. She also talks about whether the los angeles community supports the decision to prosecute Glasser and whether she thinks she can win. This interview was conducted in July 2001.

... Are there guidelines? Are there reference points that you all know to file?

I have an acronym for it, called "CURBFHP." The "C" stands for "children involved." The "U" is for urination or defecation in conjunction with sex acts. The "R" is for rape scenes. The "B" is for bestiality. The "F" is fisting or foot insertion. The "H" is for homicide or dismemberment in conjunction with the sex act. And the "P" is for severe infliction of pain. So those are the seven general categories that we prosecute.

We have looked at, and are looking at, videos that fall outside that category. They're currently being evaluated for filing. So there are other videos out there that don't generally fit into those categories, but are pretty far out there.

There's one category, the name of which I can't pronounce. ...

The "bukkake" film. ... I'll tell you what this is. I saw the video. Basically it's a woman who masturbates on top of a table or in a park. You see her by [her]self, and then later you see about maybe 60 to 80 men around her. And there's a clap. The people then take off their shorts. And there's a clap. And then you see the men throwing the shorts at the woman. The next scene is every man ejaculating on top of this woman, who has her eyes closed. She's laying down on the table and it's dripping off of her hair and her head, and her face and her mouth. ...

And then the crescendo of the film is a woman who has like a bong, with the tube in her mouth, and the men are standing around. They're ejaculating onto her face and into this upside-down cup, and she's drinking it. And that's the end of the film.

That is an instance that falls beyond the range of the seven codified areas.

Well, the traditionally prosecuted areas.

And yet, that obviously is an instance that your common sense kicks in? ...

Common sense kicks in. And I think when you look at the law and what you have to measure it against, that's why it has to be objective. I look at that film and I say, "Is this something the community is willing to accept under the guidelines of what the law has?"

Who dreams up that stuff?

Apparently, or allegedly, one of the producers gave a comment to a police officer -- didn't know it was an undercover officer -- they were at like an adult show. And during this conversation with this undercover officer, he says, "It's just really hard for me to compete. I'm like a little guy in this big business. And so I've got to push the envelope."

That was the sense that you get from this comment. And so people are willing to go to push the envelope, to go a little bit further, to track people where if it's just the curious, that's fine, as long as they pay the money.

What does that tell you about our culture?

It's very different from the values that I was raised in, very different from the things that I learned from my grandparents and my parents. I guess it says that we're willing to do more for the sake of money. And we're willing to do things that maybe we wouldn't have dreamed of as kids. We're willing to harm others, to exploit. We do that every day with other things in other areas: our environment, the work[place]. This is the other category of things to prosecute.

But do you get the sense at all when you're making one of these prosecutions that the community is behind you?

No, I don't really know if the community is behind me. I just have to do it based on what we believe the community will accept. And that comes from just talking to people. That comes really from the officers. The detectives have talked to people.

The last [obscenity] trial the city of Los Angeles did was in 1993, and there was a conviction. I think we're probably one of the few places that actually prosecutes obscenity on film, other than the federal authorities, because I think they do, too. But I've contacted other people, and I don't really see them going after obscenity. Here, where we have the capital of the adult videos, it's kind of a necessity.

Why was the last obscenity trial back in 1993? Why is that?

I think the industry does know that there are certain things that they should not be putting out there on the market. And many people do not do that. When we have somebody, they usually plead guilty to the charge as charged.

And would these be misdemeanors? Felonies?

Misdemeanors. First offenses are misdemeanors. Second offenses are felonies. They're wobblers, I should say; could be a felony or a misdemeanor. They are not prosecuted. They haven't been prosecuted for over 20 years, I believe, by the district attorney's office.

Why?

It's a tricky area. You [only] have so many resources; what are you going to go after? I teach a trial advocacy course, and I talk to prosecutors everywhere. And they get really surprised at the things that we prosecute here as misdemeanors, as well as the kinds of things that we see.

So you don't prosecute felonies?

No.

And when it kicks up to the district attorney's office ...

They're not doing it. I'm not sure if they're even being presented. I know at least one time during the last seven years it hadn't been presented to the district attorney's office in which it was rejected. But I'm not sure if they're really being presented, because I think there's a knowledge that the district attorney's office does not prosecute these things as felonies.

So let me get this right. Both men and women make these things. If one of them goes beyond the pale, and is prosecuted and convicted, basically it's a misdemeanor? They can go right back to work doing the same thing?

Right. They can. But I think what happens is that there's a problem. If they are producing things that have been prosecuted, they may not want to spend the money to defend themselves.

One of the things that a recent defendant allegedly had concern about through his attorney was, "If we get prosecuted, our understanding is that the federal authorities are going to start looking at local convictions as a trigger for federal convictions." And so maybe that's why they're worried.

... In other words, the feds are able to come in and say, "Mr. Pornographer X, Y, or Z, you've already got these local convictions. Now we can come after you."

Or, "We know that you're selling. If you're still selling it now, you're going to be in trouble." They'll be in worse trouble with the federal authorities. But the detectives are U.S. marshals; they're crossovers. So they do have some federal authority as well. We don't really know what the federal authorities are doing. We don't really have a knowledge of one another or what we're doing, unless there's some reason why we need to be in contact.

But you have a sense. You have a temperature gauge, even if you don't expressly discuss this with them. Let me ask you about that intuition right now. As you know, in the porn industry there is this sense of what they call "the blue sky-green light era" of the Clinton administration, where basically obscenity cases weren't prosecuted. And now, of course, there's this perceived peril around the bend, because of the Bush administration coming in. What's your sense of that? Do you think the feds will get more actively involved?

I just don't know. It's going to depend on what they think is important. I don't know. I really don't know.

Do you think the industry fears that?

I think they do. I think they do, because it's been commented on. And yet, business as usual for us. The detectives at LAPD, they were up to maybe 10 people. There's three now. Business as usual. We go with the flow. If they've got five people, if they've got ten people, or three people, they do what they can with the investigations and the tips that they have. They bring them to us, and we prosecute it.

What do you mean, "It's been commented on"? You've heard it?

Through the industry, yes. Well, there's a lot of websites that are out there that kind of detail what's happening with the porn industry. There's interviews -- and I don't know if they actually occurred -- but the information on them says, "We're being prosecuted because of the change in administration."

This is something recent that was on there. And, you know, that's not true. It's just they fit in our guidelines, and they're being prosecuted for what they--

But as they see it, their fear is--

That there's going to be more prosecution. There's going to be a redirected focus in the federal system, and they may get caught up in it.

Is that possible?

It's possible. It's possible, but I don't really have a good knowledge of how the federal authorities work. I don't really have a sense of how the prosecution gets their directives in terms of -- not so much of what to do -- but in what to focus on, or what to include. I don't know.

For example, there is this case now -- Adam Glasser.

Seymore Butts. Yes.

Is this prosecution unusual in any way?

No, it's not. We just had a conviction in January for a company called Mother Productions. And they had somewhere a video -- although I didn't see it -- I understand that it included fisting. So does this video.

The other video that was prosecuted as well in January involved urination in conjunction with sex. And these are the kinds of videos we prosecute.

Were those convictions guilty pleas that were before the bench?

Right.

So this Glasser case is different in what way?

In the sense that it is now possibly going to trial. It is different that somebody is challenging the city.

And what's your sense of why he would be challenging the city?

We don't just do hardcore pornography. We do hardcore pornography that has some element that takes it to the extremes. That's what we prosecute.

It could be just his philosophy. Maybe he believes in what he's doing. He believes in being able to distribute these types of hardcore videos. It also could be that he wants to make a name for himself, and this is the best way to get publicity. Nothing prevents him from continuing to sell these videos while the trial is pending. There is a doctrine called "prior restraint," and we don't prohibit people from distributing things unless they've actually been found to be [obscene]. ... So there's certain criteria that we have to follow.

So if he wanted to continue to take his chances of getting prosecuted in the future, he can sell all the videos he wants. And this may be a big draw: "Pay $40 for my video, and see the scene that the prosecutors of L.A. want to prosecute."

What is the video in question?

"Tampa Tushy Fest I." There's a "Tampa Tushy Fest II" out now available.

And what is it about "Tampa Tushy Fest" that is prosecutable?

It is, I believe, legally prosecutable because it's hardcore pornography. The depiction of sexuality is "patently offensive," which is like a trigger word, where that common sense thing kicks in. It's really over the top. And it also includes scenes of fisting. It's a term where you stick the hands into the vaginal or rectal opening in a fist. It's part of the sexual act that's occurring.

And these are actual depictions? I mean, this really happens?

This happens, right. And the camera is right on that area. They may be very up close, and all you see is the vagina and the hand or the rectum and the hand going in.

And so in such a case, would you anticipate that Mr. Butts would deny that this is there if it's there?

No, that's not really what he's saying at all. It's that it's not obscenity, [and it] should be protected under the First Amendment. So he's saying it doesn't go too far. And I guess the main thing that they're saying is that the community will accept this.

And presumably, the community will actually get its chance to give voice to that question in the form of a jury decision.

Absolutely. That's what it's all about. My job is to present the evidence to the jury. And it's really the jury, the community, that looks at a video like this and says, "You know, that's not acceptable."

And the offensive scene in this is--?

Everything, really. It's got to be looked at in totality. So it's everything. But those scenes just put it over the top where we're going to prosecute it. ... The entire film is anal intercourse. On the video box itself, it says, "1,000 percent anal." ... Two women involved, and one man, I think that's mainly what it is. And there's also, I think, mainly at the end, another man involved.

So you just see people having anal intercourse and helping each other have anal intercourse. And towards the end, I guess the last third of it is where they would be sticking their hands into their vaginal or rectal openings.

So Mr. Butts is building a defense on the hope, I guess, that a jury of his peers -- representatives of this community -- will look at these scenes of men and women inserting their fists in their rectums and in their vaginas, and say that is not patently offensive.

Absolutely.

Is such a jury finding possible?

Possible. For example, ... the defense attorney brought in books about fisting, vaginal and anal. Also there was a rubber fist that he brought in, and he said he wanted to include this.

... If I get before the court, I would obviously argue that these things shouldn't be part of the trial, because it's not the sexual practice that's at issue. And so we don't need to know that people have these sexual practices. It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter. Does the film depict sexuality in a patently offensive way? That's what's at issue. It's the depiction.

So it's going to depend on how this evidence is presented, if allowed. Now, there's a lot of things I think should be excluded. But all those issues are still pending.

Ms. Sanchez, suppose this is tested by the community and the jury comes back and says, "Not guilty." Does that mean that the next Seymore Butts is beyond your reach?

It does not mean that at all, because the city hasn't gone to trial on these. If, for example, the jury comes back "Not guilty," I still believe that the community would not approve. There's so many moving parts to a trial. ... We can talk with them [the jurors] and see what they think, and try to figure it out. But I think we would continue to prosecute cases of that nature. And if they just consistently, consistently came back, "Not guilty, not guilty, not guilty," we're going to have to rethink that.

But I don't think we're really going to have a problem with people thinking that they can produce these and distribute them in the city of Los Angeles and get away with it. It's just not going to happen.

When you go through that process of screening the jury, of selecting the jurors, do you hold up a rubber fist and say, "Anybody know what this is?"

No, hopefully that won't come into play. I think [in] selecting a jury, there's a lot of things you can't tell them. You can't really talk about the evidence ahead of time. What you do is you talk about the subject matters, and you tell what their responsibilities are. And you ask them if they can be fair. And I think the attorneys always want to know, what's the background? What do they think like? Have they been in the community long?

For me, I would look for somebody stable that maybe has an investment in the community. So we're going to probably be looking for different kinds of people. But I just want somebody like me -- common sense. Just somebody out there doing what they're doing on a daily basis. Taking care of their family, going to work. That's what I'm looking for.

And if you find a jury of such people, [is it] your sense they will look at this stuff and conclude -- what?

That it's across the line and it is unprotected by the First Amendment. They won't think that, but my gut tells me they'll say, "This should not be in society." And my job even is to articulate the gut feeling that they're going to have when they see it. I hope that I can articulate why it shouldn't be in there, how it fits within the law, and give voice to what they know in their hearts and in their gut. ...

What about Seymore's mother?

Lyla Glasser is also named -- that's Seymore Butts' mother, or Adam Glasser's mother. And she was running the day-to-day operations. The officer said she would show up at 8:20 like clockwork every day. So she ran the business.

There were two firefighters in the area that the detectives had enlisted. I guess what I could say is Lyla Glasser ran the day-to-day operations. And we're going to be able to prove that through the police investigation, the surveillance that was done, and also through other means, testimony.

But she said she never saw a movie.

It doesn't matter if she never saw the video at all. What matters is, do you have a general knowledge -- you don't have to know exactly what's on the video -- do you have a general knowledge of what's being distributed? And because she was involved in the operations on a day-to-day basis, she was charged with distributing obscenity. So she doesn't have to see it herself. She just has to have a general knowledge of what is contained in the video.

Who is Seymore Butts? Is he a fringe guy in a garage or a basement somewhere? Or is he actually making serious money on this material?

The detectives went out to the location. And I think that there was a warehouse, hundreds of videos. So he's not in the garage selling these things. I think it's more of a commercial operation, although that's based on the knowledge that I have on the report.

Are you aware of Rob Black, Lizzy Borden, and Extreme Associates and the videos they make?

I am familiar with Extreme Associates and with Rob Black, only through their website. And I've been following that for a little while.

What's your view of what they make?

I don't really know. It's kind of interesting, because there's things right now that are under investigation. I only know what the officers bring me. I don't look at this in my leisure time, so I really don't know. So whenever they bring me something, I review it for possible prosecution to see if it fits within our guidelines. I am familiar that they're hardcore pornography, but I don't know what kinds of things that they actually see.

If we told you that there was a scene that we saw where a woman was beaten, a simulated rape, actually beaten beyond at knifepoint, and that it looked like a snuff film in every way ... shaking camera and all that stuff ... does that fit your test for something that you might go after?

Absolutely we would prosecute that. If the totality of the film, based on what you're describing, depicts that, and it's a big part of the film, then it will be prosecuted, if the police bring it.

Is it your sense that a renewed federal effort by Ashcroft would help you?

I don't see how it could help me; I really don't. It could help me maybe if there were some bite to that bark, if federal authorities were actually out there doing something in the city of L.A. where we are the capital of adult videos. If they're actually going to go out there and do something, then it may help me, because people will be afraid of the federal authorities; not because they're afraid of us.

Do you think Vivid, Wicked, VCA, and Larry Flynt's organization have anything to fear from you and the feds? Or are these guys too big and too mainstream now?

... I believe I may have seen some video productions from Vivid, so maybe. But I don't think that they're going to put that out there, the kinds of things that we're seeing. As far as the city is concerned, if it stays away from those general categories, we won't prosecute. They won't be seeing us.

How do you, as a prosecutor, approach the community standard? What's your answer to the question? Is it very much a moving target now with the Internet and everything else? And how can you prosecute anything but the very [extreme cases]?

That's kind of what we do. We do prosecute the most very extreme things. What we do see is that there is a public appetite that sparks the commercial distribution of videos that are further and further along. And I think that hardcore pornography can be prosecuted. But we don't just do hardcore pornography; we do hardcore pornography that has some element that takes it to the extremes. And that's what we prosecute.

So I approach it, not just with a common sense, but what has a community found obscene in the past? And since we only prosecute the most extreme stuff, the other things are relatively safe in terms of what the city would prosecute.

Do you hope that, by nailing a few of these characters, the whole industry will somehow back away from acting quite so mainstream?

I have no thoughts of harming the industry. That's like throwing rocks at a car. I might make a little dent with this particular defendant. But I have no fantasies of bringing the porn industry to its knees. That's not what I'm doing. I'm prosecuting someone who broke the law.

Is it a slippery slope? When I watch a Vivid or a watch a VCA or I watch a Wicked, and I go to the Hot Network, next week am I going to watch something else? And in two months am I going to be seeking out child porn or snuff films?

No, I think there are so many types of people. ... It's not really the watchers that we're after -- it's the producers, the distributors -- because it's not illegal to possess obscenity. The contact for us is really in the industry itself, the people that are actually peddling this stuff.

Why are you after them?

Because of the selling of the material that is really beyond what the community will tolerate. And I think somebody has to stand up for the community, in a sense. I have to at least allow them to see [that] this is what's going on. "Do you think that this is acceptable to your community?" And if a jury tells me "Yes," then so be it. If they tell me "No," then let's see where that really goes.

The last time the people of Los Angeles spoke [as a] jury was 1993. That was pre-Internet, pre-proliferation of computers and receiving all kinds of garbage in your own home without any embarrassment at all. What do you do about this?

... I think that even though the Internet is out there, the people actually finding those sites and looking for those sites are people that are already interested in those types of depictions. So I don't know if it really can affect the community as it is, even though it's out there, and more widely available.

How do you think about yourself? Who are you? What character are you in this drama?

I'm just a representative of the city. I think my job, or my role, is a presenter. I present [to] the community. I say, "Community, look at what's out there. Community, is this acceptable to you?" That's what I do. I'm the presenter. I'm not really the judge on this. And as I said, my personal thoughts might be we should go way back and look at the hardcore pornography that's out there that doesn't have these extreme elements and prosecute those. But I think my job is just to give the community the information.

If you find success in prosecuting the Glasser case, Seymore Butts, and continue in success in getting convictions on these others, might that embolden you to go after what you believe is prosecutable hardcore that isn't necessarily extreme fringe?

It would really be dependent on the current city attorney. If they felt that we should spend the resources, or we should go a little bit further back, then that's what I'll do. Like I said in the beginning, I can get behind it, I can believe in it, if it's hardcore pornography.

So it really depends. I think generally the industry isn't distributing these types of films; it's not easy to find. I know there's a lot of hardcore pornography out there, but you don't really see it flooding the market. And there's even been some talk about this particular case that perhaps the defendant should just take their medicine.

home . introduction . prosecuting . the business . special reports
watch the program . if you were the juror... . quiz . do you use porn? . discussion
interviews . readings & links . tapes & transcripts . press reaction . credits . privacy
FRONTLINE . wgbh . pbs online

some photos copyright © 2002 photodisc all rights reserved.
web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation

SUPPORT PROVIDED BY

NEXT ON FRONTLINE

Solitary NationApril 22nd

FRONTLINE on

ShopPBS