The Naked Truth

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

Until recently, he says, the exercise ended in plea-bargained convictions for the clerks. "They paid their fines and went along. Now, just because some lawyer has figured out how to bumfuzzle a jury, that doesn't relieve me of my responsibility to enforce the law."

It's debatable, though, whether the old way of doing things does much besides loading down sales clerks with criminal records. The tapes and the stores have gone on largely unaffected.

That is, until Chatham took the case of John Wallace, who had been charged with selling a hard-core video at New Fine Arts' store on Mockingbird Lane in early 2000.

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.

"He didn't want to take a plea, because he didn't think he did anything wrong," Chatham says. The owners were leery of letting a young lawyer take on such a complex case, but once the trial began, the prosecutors showed themselves to be so rusty in presenting an obscenity case that the judge directed the jury to find Wallace not guilty as a matter of law.

With Woodson's acquittal, Chatham's winning streak now runs to 12. "That was the toughest one I've had," he says. Some juries have been more laissez-faire about obscenity than hers. Others have seized on the hypocrisy of going after low-paid clerks. "I try to make them ask, 'Who are we punishing and why?'" Chatham says. "Juries can have a great sense of fairness. That law is not a wooden thing."

Woodson, who had never been to court in her life, says she's relieved to have the trial behind her, and not have a sex-crime conviction following her through life.

"Personally, I think that tape is disgusting," she says. Some of the tapes she rented and sold were erotic, she says, and she would recommend them to women customers looking to take home a thrill. She took a few free rentals home herself, although her film tastes run more to sci-fi.

"There were all kinds of tapes and all kinds of customers," Woodson says, explaining that the patrons ranged from the clean-cut couples, to men with weekly porn habits, to weirdos in search of bestiality scenes.

After the bust, though, she'd had enough of porn-store work. "I'd been there a year and half," she says. "You get tired working around so much smut."

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