Monday, October 29, 2001

Obscenity cases define Sirkin's career

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        H. Louis Sirkin didn't set out to build his legal career around pornography cases.

        It just worked out that way.

        The Cincinnati lawyer started out in the 1970s with a few store owners who were in trouble for selling adult magazines. One case led to another, and within a year or so he was traveling the country to defend adult businesses accused of obscenity.

        As the industry expanded from magazines to videos to the Internet, Mr. Sirkin was there to defend it.

        His argument was almost always the same: Adults have a constitutional right to watch what they like.

        “I don't believe in exploiting or degrading anyone,” says Mr. Sirkin, who has been practicing law for more than 30 years. “But I believe in choices.”

        He will make the same basic argument Tuesday in his first appearance before the U.S. Supreme Court.

        He represents the Free Speech Coalition, a trade association of adult businesses that opposes a portion of the Child Pornography Prevention Act. Mr. Sirkin will argue that the law is so vague it would allow prosecutors to go after adult pornography featuring young-looking adult actors.

        The case is another reminder of just how closely his career has been linked to the adult industry.

        At times, his career path has led to some wildly different clients, from Hustler publisher Larry Flynt to the Contemporary Arts Center and its Robert Mapplethorpe photo exhibit.

        Among his most recent high-profile cases: Defending Thomas Condon, the Mount Auburn photographer who was convicted of taking pictures of bodies in the Hamilton County morgue.

        Mr. Sirkin's firm, Sirkin Pinales Mezibov & Schwartz, is located downtown.

        Regardless of the client, those who know Mr. Sirkin say he's never changed his approach to his job.

        “He's a fighter,” says Ralph Bentz, who was prosecuted for — and eventually acquitted of — pandering obscenity in the 1970s. “He goes in there to win. He really believes in the First Amendment.”

        “He's a very effective advocate,” says Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen, who has gone against Mr. Sirkin in court several times.

        Mr. Sirkin says his goal after law school was to take on cases dealing with free speech and freedom of choice. After a few years, he says, he realized that's what the pornography cases were all about.

        “It's something I really do believe in,” he says.


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