Retailer Gordon Lee of Legends, in Rome, Georgia was recently arrested for distributing a mature readers comic to a minor (see 'CBLDF Takes Georgia Obscenity Case'), but that wasn't the first case involving Lee and comics. Lee was previously convicted on an obscenity charge, and then won a case against the Floyd County district attorney requiring the return of seized comics and payment of over $18,000 in legal fees.
Lee was convicted on February 18, 1993 of selling obscene materials and fined $1,000 and sentenced to 12 months; both were suspended on payment of $250. Lee's attorney, Rome attorney Paul Cadle, felt that the case turned on the defense's inability to present expert witnesses on the question of whether the works were obscene. A continuance for the purpose of obtaining expert witnesses was denied in the run-up to the trial, and a lawsuit by Capital City Distribution for a preliminary injunction to stop the case was denied in federal court. Lee's appeals were denied in federal court in 1994. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund assisted with fees for the trial and the appeal.
On September 3, 1993, Lee filed suit against Steve Lanier, Floyd County District Attorney; the City of Rome, Georgia; and the City of Rome Police Department for the return of inventory seized in conjunction with the obscenity case. The lawsuit was handled by Cadle and ACLU attorney Gerald Weber.
The comics seizure had occurred on November 1, 1991, the day the police received a complaint about comics that were purchased at Legends. Around 300 books were taken as evidence under a search warrant. But even though the books were not used as evidence (only the two that were purchased were admitted as evidence in the obscenity trial), they were also not returned. The law required that in order for the city to keep the inventory, there had to be an adversary hearing to determine whether or not they were obscene; they could only be kept by the city if they were 'contraband,' obscene materials. There was no hearing; the books were simply not returned.
Lee settled with the City of Rome and the Police Department, but the district attorney's office refused to return the books, and filed various motions in the case. On July 29th, 1994, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia issued a ruling denying all motions, ordering the district attorney to return the inventory within ten days, and ordering payment of $12,352.50 in attorney fees to Weber and $6,023.35 to Cadle. The inventory was then returned quickly, according to Cadle. 'They called me up and said, 'Here's the stuff, where do you want it,'' he said.
Other than the defendant and the location, there are few similarities between the 1991 case and the current charges against Lee. But there's a history here, and most of the players are the same people that were in place in the 90s cases. Stay tuned for the next chapter in this unfolding saga.