The people versus Larry Flynt again

MILOS FORMAN may have no plans for a sequel for his hit 1997 film, The People vs Larry Flynt. The ever-restless Mr Flynt, however, apparently does.

Twenty-one years after Mr Flynt was convicted on obscenity charges in Cincinnati, Ohio - a landmark First Amendment battle that was the subject of the Forman film and which cast Mr Flynt as a crusader for the freedom of the press and expression - he is now back in the Cincinnati courts all over again.

Mr Flynt, the founder and publisher of Hustler magazine, was charged in the city on Tuesday along with his brother, Jimmy Flynt, on multiple obscenity charges including selling pornographic videotapes to a 14-year- old.

By all accounts, it is fresh trouble that Mr Flynt has been asking for. By facing off with prosecutors all over again, he is apparently hoping to demonstrate finally that Hustler violates no laws. He also hopes to see the current obscenity exception removed from the First Amendment.

A year ago, Mr Flynt, 55, openly challenged the Cincinnati authorities by handing out free copies of Hustler to passers-by in the city's central Fountain Square. From there, he proceeded to establish an X-rated sex shop, with magazines, videos and sex toys, in the heart of the city.

In 1977, Mr Flynt served only six days of a lengthy prison sentence and his conviction was eventually overturned after the case went all the way to the US Supreme Court. It was seen as a triumph for him personally and for the First Amendment that protects the right of Americans to free speech.

There is every chance that this new confrontation may take the same route from Cincinnati to Washington. If the two brothers - Jimmy was running the shop - are convicted, they could face up 24 years in prison.

The prosecutors in this case insist, however, that it has nothing to do with Hustler. "I'm not going to say whether Hustler is obscene," said prosecutor Joseph Dieter.

"This about videos. He can sell whatever he wants. But once he broke the law, we had go to a grand jury and that's what we did."

The authorities made their move several weeks ago after a 14-year-old boy went to the shop, bought a blue video and then bragged about his purchase to friends. The boy then went to the police, who sent him back to the shop to buy more of the videos.

Tuesday's charges were issued on the grounds of a finding of a grand jury empanelled a week ago.

Yesterday, Mr Flynt said he decided to confront Cincinnati again after visiting the city for a premiere for The People vs Larry Flynt and noting that Hustler was not available there. "I felt that if I was really committed to the First Amendment, then I should be fighting the battle on that front."

He acknowledged, however, that he was also anxious to see the obscenity exception struck from the First Amendment, whereby, under a Supreme Court ruling, different community's can set their standards of what is or is not obscene for themselves.

"People have a right to read or do whatever they want to," he added. "We can't have publishers and producers having to second-guess what reading habits are in New York, Los Angeles or Biloxi, Mississippi."

Some in Cincinnati may not welcome the new confrontation. The conservative reputation that the city earned after the 1977 battle was reinforced in 1990 when it famously prosecuted a local art gallery for showing the homo- erotic work of Robert Mapplethorpe.

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