CBLDF: Gordon Lee Case Dismissed, Back to Square One

Official Press Release

The long-running case of Georgia v. Gordon Lee took yet another strange turn of events yesterday when the prosecution dismissed all charges against the Rome, Georgia retailer only to bring a new accusation arising from the Halloween 2004 incident that resulted in his arrest.

When Judge Larry Salmon entered the courtroom shortly after 9 AM Monday, prosecutors declared the case nolle prosse, meaning that the charges that were to go to trial this week have been dismissed. Prosecutors are re-filing under a new accusation alleging that Lee handed "Alternative Comics #2" to a six-year-old minor and his nine-year-old brother, instead of solely to the nine-year-old, as has been previously, and repeatedly, declared.

Lee now faces two misdemeanor counts of "Distribution of Materials Harmful to a Minor" (OCGA 16-12-103). One count alleges he "did unlawfully … knowingly furnish and disseminate to a minor… a book, pamphlet, magazine and printed matter containing pictures, drawings and visual representation and images of a person or portion of the human body which depict sexually explicit nudity, sexual conduct, and sadomasochistic abuse and which is harmful to minors…" The second count alleges that he disseminated and furnished material containing "explicit and detailed verbal descriptions and narrative accounting of sexual excitement, sexual conduct, and sadomasochistic abuse and which taken as a whole is harmful to minors."

The dismissal of the case against Lee is a victory for the retailer, though the new accusation sets his defense back to square one. The next step will be for prosecutors to bring a new arraignment for Lee, at which point the case proceeds down the long road to trial all over again. Defense Attorney Paul Cadle says, "This is a victory, but it means we have to keep going."

Cadle adds, "Today's dismissal is recognition of the strengths of Gordon's case and our vigorous legal defense of him in this matter. We said all along that these charges are inappropriate and I think we've been vindicated by their dismissal. But, if they want to bring further charges, we'll be back in court again."

Though the dismissal is a victory in the near term, there are abundant questions about how prosecutors arrived at this point. CBLDF counsel first heard of the intention to dismiss the existing charges and draw up a new accusation late Sunday afternoon.

Lead counsel Alan Begner says, "I have never -- as a criminal trial lawyer for thirty years -- seen a complete changing of the facts like this. Throughout the last year and a half, through written statements, the investigation, and the presentation of evidence before the grand jury, as well as the written accusation and indictment, the State had steadfastly asserted that the comic book had been handed to the nine-year-old. The dismissal of the charges today reflects the prosecution's admission that everything that was presented as evidence before was untrue, and that they had stuck to the false facts through procedure after procedure in the case. We now intend to investigate how a year and a half of statements based on one set of facts has now been changed at the last minute to another set of facts."

Cadle adds, "To find out about this significant factual change in the allegations against Gordon at 3 PM on a Sunday when we were supposed to be going to trial at 9 AM on a Monday is disconcerting. It unfortunately has the result of costing Mr. Lee and the Fund tons more time, effort, and money. As attorneys, we've done what we're supposed to do and we're going to keep doing that. Alan and I were ready, willing, and able to go to trial this week, but unfortunately we now need to incur more legal time and expense to move forward."

To date the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has spent in excess of $40,000 defending Mr. Lee, and expects costs to hit the $50,000 mark later this month when invoices from the current round of legal fees arising from trial preparation arrive.

Charles Brownstein, the Fund's Executive Director said, "Monday's proceedings represent one of the stranger legal episodes in the Fund's twenty-year history, but it is an episode that stands as vindication of our commitment to proving Gordon's innocence, as well as affirmative evidence of the larger importance of our organization's purpose. From the start of the courtroom process, our attorneys have proved that Mr. Lee has been unjustly overcharged, and yesterday's dismissal of that case is the most recent indication that his arrest and the charges brought against him were entirely without merit."

Brownstein adds, "By the start of May we will have spent $50,000 defending Mr. Lee against these unjust charges – a sum that no small retailer, such as Gordon, would have been able to afford. Without the Fund, he would have had to risk personal bankruptcy or pleading to a crime that prosecutors have now admitted he is not guilty of committing. Our purpose is to defend retailers like Gordon against such unjust prosecution. And while the cost of proving his innocence is great, it is a pittance in comparison to seeing a member of our business community sold down the river for crimes of which he is innocent."

He concludes, "I can only shake my head at the fact that the case has come this far, and that the prosecution appears ready and willing to sink even more of Rome's public resources into prosecuting such a meritless misdemeanor. That said, we intend to finish the job we started: to continue our march to prove Mr. Lee's innocence, and to ensure that no retailer in Georgia is harmed by any bad precedent that could arise from a conviction in this case. We hope we can continue to count on the support of the comics fan and business communities as we perform this important work, because there's still a long road left to travel before we reach a final victory."

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund was founded in 1986 as a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of First Amendment rights for members of the comics community. Donations and inquiries should be directed to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund at info@cbldf.org or 800-99-CBLDF

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