The Naked Truth

When it comes to Dallas' practice of prosecuting low-level porn clerks, jurors know hypocrisy when they see it

The code, they noticed, uses precisely the same language to define dirty movies as the state's obscenity statute, meaning the store is licensed to sell movies such as Euro Angels #20 that show adult actors involved in a wide variety of sex acts.

"The city allows the sale of it. It's legal to sell," Enders says. "That sealed it for us. I don't see how they expect to win any cases like this."

He says the jury also questioned why a sales clerk, and not the store's owners or managers, was on trial. They might have taken a different view if someone more responsible for the store's wares were at the defense table, not because of the legal issues but because they were so stunned by the tape. "We were looking around to see if he was out there," Enders says.

Former clerk Brenda Woodson rang up and bagged porno tapes and DVDs at New Fine Arts Video West. Then the vice squad bagged her for selling what they alleged was an obscene tape.
Mark Graham
Former clerk Brenda Woodson rang up and bagged porno tapes and DVDs at New Fine Arts Video West. Then the vice squad bagged her for selling what they alleged was an obscene tape.
Attorney Andrew Chatham has manuals in his office on how to defend people charged with DWIs, but his young practice has developed a new specialty: beating up on the Dallas police's and Dallas County district attorney's age-old policy of busting porn-store clerks.
Mark Graham
Attorney Andrew Chatham has manuals in his office on how to defend people charged with DWIs, but his young practice has developed a new specialty: beating up on the Dallas police's and Dallas County district attorney's age-old policy of busting porn-store clerks.


Actually, co-owner Gary Hartstein, whose name is on the city license, was in the audience for a few minutes at the start of the trial. Dressed in slacks and tennis shoes, the slightly pudgy 45-year-old is a second-generation porno merchant, and by the looks of things, a very successful one. His father, Herbert Hartstein, got his start showing X-rated movies at drive-ins in St. Louis in the mid-1960s, moved to Texas in the mid-1970s and staked out a piece of the budding video business. Today, porn in the United States is a $4 billion-a-year industry, bigger than Major League Baseball. "You remember the Lone Star Drive-In, it burned down in the '80s? That was my father's," Hartstein says.

Hartstein and his uncle, Paul Radnitz, are the principal partners in a company that owns 13 porno-tape stores in Texas, from Brownsville to Abilene, Dallas and Kaufman County to El Paso. "This is the only place where we're getting this kind of problem," Hartstein says of the busts. "It's harassment."

If it is, its only effect has been to add a few dollars to the cost of doing business. Neither Hartstein nor Radnitz has a single charge against him in Dallas County criminal records. They live in large homes in Plano, drive expensive imported cars and enjoy a prosperous anonymity. In fact, Radnitz and his wife were featured recently in The Dallas Morning News in a Sunday feature about their long and happy relationship. It didn't mention what he does for a living.

The routine charges have been a headache, Radnitz says. They raise labor and legal costs. "I have to raise the pay scale. We're just like any other employer. We have a 401(k), hospitalization, paid holidays...This is harmless entertainment for adults who seek that sort of entertainment," says Radnitz, who doesn't especially talk up the end of his product line that makes it into court. "They show this stuff to jurors. They think it's disgusting. After the initial shock wears off, boredom sets in. It's boring."

In the early 1990s, major legal battles with the city "washed out," in Radnitz's words, and Dallas police settled into the habit of buying tapes--because under current federal law, they can't be confiscated--and busting clerks, who are the only people on which a simple criminal case can be made conveniently.

Even those efforts have abated slightly in recent years, the owners say, but vice-squad buys are still routine. Lately, Dallas police have focused on tapes and DVDs that combine the sex with some particularly offensive behavior, Hartstein says. "We stopped carrying Max Hardcore. They seemed to be focusing on it." His reference is to a particularly sleazy, low-budget line of tapes named for their director/producer/actor in which the women actors are pointedly demeaned.

Captain Jack Bragg, head of the 22-man Dallas vice unit, says that is precisely the result he's trying to achieve. "We read their trade magazines," he says of the Southern California-based adult-entertainment industry. "They know what is regulated in various parts of the country, what they can send where. If we didn't do what we're doing, they'd flood this area with even stronger materials. Enforcement holds them back."

Bragg says his officers target "the most egregious materials," although under his definitions, that would include a lot of the films in the stores. "We also respond to complaints," he says. "I hear from the Center for Decency and the American Decency Association, and there's another group out of Oklahoma City, the Video Vigilantes, that we hear from from time to time. Then I have the mother whose son ends up with a tape and so on and so on. There are people at the grassroots level who don't want to see this community flooded with filth."

Bragg says county prosecutors might do a better job than him explaining why clerks are targeted, but he gave it a try: "The owner doesn't sell it, they're hard to find, they have shell corporations, all that kind of jazz. Obviously we'd like to go after the pigs and scumbags in a way that wouldn't make the Supreme Court jump. But they left it up to vice captain, who has to gather it up, charge who we can and send it to the jury."

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