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Federal judge a victim of privacy breach or poor judgment?

Depends (perhaps) on what you're calling a Web site

June 17, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Nearly a week after the Los Angeles Times reported finding sexually explicit images on a Web site maintained by Alex Kozinski, chief judge of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, questions are swirling in the blog world over whether he was the victim of a privacy breach or his own bad judgment.

Those defending Kozinski say the original story not only twisted some of the facts but was also based on information provided by someone who essentially broke into and accessed a private folder containing information that clearly wasn't meant to be openly shared on the Internet. Others maintain that while Kozinski may not have intended for the images to be shared with the general public, he exercised poor judgment in allowing them to be accessed via the Web anyway.

At the heart of the debate is a story that was first reported by the Times about images of a sexual nature allegedly posted on a publicly accessible Web site at alex.kozinski.com. The site was apparently maintained by the judge and members of his family.

The Times described many of the images that it found on the site as "crudely humorous." For instance, the newspaper reported that the material included a photo of two nude women painted to look like cows, along with other photos and at least one video featuring nude or semiclad men and women. Access to the Web site was disabled after the story appeared, but the images were mirrored on several blogs.

Kozinski maintained that the images had been stored in a folder that he believed wasn't accessible via the Web. In comments made to the Times, Kozinski said that the images were meant to be shared with some of his friends and that they included material he himself had received from others over time. He also said in a statement that some of the images might have been uploaded by his adult son, while others might have been posted on the site inadvertently.

The Times story was widely picked up by other media outlets and blogs, and the resulting publicity led to Kozinski last week recusing himself from a high-profile obscenity trial over which he was presiding.

The Times was alerted to the availability of the images by Cyrus Sanai, an attorney in Beverly Hills, Calif., with whom Kozinski has had a running feud for the past few years over an opinion column that the judge wrote for a legal publication.

In a letter to a legal blog called Patterico's Pontifications, Kozinski's wife Marcy Tiffany claimed that her husband had been the victim of a vendetta-inspired smear campaign. She blasted the Times for what she said was a mischaracterization of the collection of images and for suggesting that it represented a pornography collection.



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