Politics & Government

Former official accuses appellate judge of downloading porn

WASHINGTON -- A former federal courts chief is demanding the impeachment or resignation of a prominent California-based appellate judge who is already facing scrutiny over raunchy Internet imagery.

In a heated, 38-page complaint that resurrects an old feud, the former courts administrator alleges that 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Alex Kozinski committed "felonies and other crimes" by temporarily turning off the courts' Internet security system in May 2001.

"He robbed judges of both their Internet privacy and security ... solely to ensure that he and some judges and some court staff could continue to download pornography illegally in their chambers while not being detected," former Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts chief Leonidas Ralph Mecham declared.

Other judges have previously rejected similar charges, and Kozinski's attorney dismissed the new complaint as a rehash. At the least, though, Mecham's new complaint could roil the judicial waters.

While not pinpointing who allegedly looked at what, Mecham's exclamation point-filled complaint against both Kozinski and 9th Circuit Judge Mary Schroeder of Arizona insinuates rampant judicial porn access.

"In just one 28-day period, for instance, a Ninth Circuit study found that there were over 90,000 hits on 1,100 pornographic sites," Mecham states. "In just one year fully 50 percent of the increased use of the Judiciary's (Internet) bandwidth was to download pornography in the federal courts, on court computers by court officials and employees."

Mecham asserted that "judging from the titles of the materials downloaded in the courts," some material may have included "child pornography." He did not give specifics.

Mecham filed his complaint with the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is already examining Kozinski's apparent affiliation with an Internet site loaded with explicit, bizarre and humorous images. Kozinski has previously indicated the Web site was intended for private use.

"Alex is not into porn -- he is into funny -- and sometimes funny has a sexual character," Kozinski's wife, Marcy Tiffany, wrote in a memo published earlier this year on www.patterico.com.

Mecham's fervently worded complaint, moreover, appears similar to what other federal judges have previously rejected.

"The matter was properly concluded seven years ago, there was no finding of judicial misconduct and (we) find no reason to revisit today those decisions," Judge Thomas Hogan, chair of the executive committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States, stated in February, following an earlier Mecham missive.

Kozinski's attorney, Mark Holscher, said Monday that the 3rd Circuit would have no reason to second-guess Judge Hogan's assessment.

"It's several years old," Holscher said of Mecham's core complaint, "and he was fully aware of what he needed to do if he wanted to file a complaint at the time."

There are no shrinking violets on either side of this unusual case, first reported by Bloomberg News.

The 80-year-old Mecham is a Utah native who dominated the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts for 21 years, overseeing logistical support for the $6 billion-a-year federal judicial system. Kozinski has been one of the most colorful federal appellate judges since President Ronald Reagan appointed him in 1985.

As the Pasadena-based chief judge, Kozinski oversees the circuit spanning 11 Western states and territories from Guam to Montana. The circuit's 12,549 cases filed in 2007 were more than double the filings in most other circuits.

"He is flamboyant, no one denies that," University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias said of Kozinski. "Personally and professionally, he may rub people the wrong way -- but so what?"

Tobias said "stale evidence," the death of one potential witness -- the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist -- and questions about the contemporary relevance of 2001 events all could complicate any potential investigation.

Born in Romania, the 58-old Kozinski has a marked libertarian bent. In a Sacramento hearing several weeks ago, for instance, he sounded skeptical about a California law banning violent videos. He previously led other federal judges in challenging Mecham's judicial computer monitoring program, including turning off the Internet security system monitoring judicial computer use in one-third of the country. Mecham subsequently moved the Internet security system from San Francisco to Kansas City, Mo. -- well outside of Kozinski's turf.