Gordon Lee is a comic book store owner from Rome, Georgia who is most famous for having been charged with distributing obscene material to a minor in connection with the Free Comic Book Day on Halloween, 2004. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund was heavily involved in Lee's defense. Lee was previously convicted on another obscenity charge.
1994 obscenity conviction
Gordon Lee is the owner of the comic book store Legends, which is based in Rome, GA. Lee was convicted on February 18, 1993 of "distributing obscene materials" for selling the pornographic comics Final Tabu
and Debbie Does Dallas
to adult customers. He was fined $1,000 and sentenced to 12 months; both were suspended on payment of $250. Lee made appeals to the court, but they were denied by the Georgia Court of Appeals
and Georgia Supreme Court
in 1994. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
assisted with fees for the trial and the appeal.
On September 3, 1993, Lee filed suit for the return of inventory seized in conjunction with the obscenity case. The comics seizure had occurred on November 1, 1991, the day the police received a complaint about comics that were purchased at Legends. Around 300 books were taken as evidence under a search warrant, but were not returned until July 29, 1994, when the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia issued a ruling ordering the district attorney to return the inventory within ten days.
Charged with selling to a minor
Lee entered the news again after the Halloween
2004 Free Comic Book Day
giveaway at a street fair in Rome. Lee's shop gave away thousands of free comics on that day, but a copy of Alternative Comics
#2 was unintentionally included in this.
Alternative Comics #2 is an anthology containing an excerpt from the story The Salon by Nick Bertozzi. The story portrays Pablo Picasso's first meeting with the fellow cubist Georges Braque, during which Picasso is depicted as nude in a non-sexual context. (The CBLDF has made statements that the comic is historically accurate in this depiction.)
The copy of that comic that was unintentionally given out was handed to a minor, whose parent filed a complaint with the police. Upon learning of the error in distributing the comic, Lee admitted that a mistake was made and offered to make a public apology for the first of many times. That apology was rejected, however, so days later, Lee was arrested. The minor in question was originally stated to be a nine-year-old boy, but various accounts by the District Attorney's office later stated that the comic was given either to the boy's six-year-old brother or to both boys.
Lee later stated "Though I am willing to apologize for this particular art book getting in the hands that found it offensive, I will adamantly agree that the book is not 'harmful to children' or 'obscene.' In my opinion, this book is no more offensive then viewing the beautiful paintings of the Sistine Chapel or reading one of the best selling books with stories of sex, lust and nudity known as the Bible."
District Attorney Leigh Patterson charged Lee with two counts of felony and five counts of misdemeanor. The two felony charges were brought under the Distribution of Material Depicting Nudity or Sexual Conduct law, which requires materials containing nudity to be distributed in an envelope labeled as such. Penalties for violating this law include one to three years in prison and/or fines of up to $10,000 US. The five misdemeanors were presented under the Distribution of Material Harmful to Minors law, which makes it a misdemeanor to supply minors any material containing nudity.
Lee appealed to Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
board member Peter David
for help late in January 2005. The CBLDF Board of Directors voted unanimously to financially support Lee's defense, putting a defense team in place within days.
In May 2005 the CBLDF submitted four motions to dismiss the counts Lee faced, challenging the constiutionality of both laws. A hearing on those motions was held on December 1, 2005 during which all charges under the Distribution of Material Depicting Nudity or Sexual Conduct law were dropped. Two of the remaining misdemeanor charges were dropped as well, and the three remaining charges were consolidated into only two. The remaining charges were for “distributing a book, pamphlet, magazine, and printed matter containing pictures, drawings and visual representation and images of a person a portion of the human body which depict sexually explicit nudity, sexual conduct, and sadomasochistic abuse and which is harmful to minors;” and for knowingly furnishing and disseminating to a minor materials “containing explicit and detailed verbal descriptions and narrative accounts of sexual excitement, sexual conduct, and sadomasochistic abuse and which taken as a whole is harmful to minors.” The Fund maintains that the material in question fails to meet the criteria as charged.
Delays in the trial
The CBLDF has spent over $80,000 on Lee's defense since taking the case in early 2005, and expects costs to reach six figures by the end of the trial. The case has been ready for trial three times, but has been delayed for various reasons each time.
Re-filing of charges
On April 2, 2006, 18 hours before Lee's jury trial, the District Attorney's team informed the defense team that all charges were being dropped against Lee based on a mistake: The recipient of the comic was not the nine-year-old originally referenced in the charges; it was his six-year-old brother. The same charges were immediately re-filed based on this, but with the other victim listed. The defense team expressed shock at this statement, which meant that they had been proceeding for 18 months under faulty charges. Additionally, this would mean that false testimony had been presented under oath at the pre-trial hearing. Lead counsel Alan Begner protested “How did a year and a half of statements based on one set of facts get changed at the last minute to another set of facts?”
New arraignment and additional delays
On May 19, 2006, a new arraignment was held under the same two misdemeanors, but with the victims states as both the six-year-old and nine-year-old boys. The CBLDF filed several motions to dismiss and procedural motions on May 30, including charging the District Attorney of prosecutorial misconduct in connection with what were now considered to be false allegations, as well as allowing untruthful testimony to be presented under oath and incurring unnecessary expense to Lee and his defense counsel by changing the trial on such short notice. Patterson said that her office has "been honest and above board throughout this case. We forwarded new information to the defense as quickly as we got it."
On June 2, 2006, prosecutors filed a new indictment modifying the second misdemeanor charge. This marked the third time that he had been formally charged for this incident. Although new indictments has been given, the first two sets of charges were never formally dropped. The CBLDF team again filed motions in response to all three sets of accusations, but all motions were dismissed, including those of prosecutorial misconduct.
The trial was postponed again on August 15, 2007, due to presiding Judge Larry Salmon being ill.
Opening statements for the new trial began on November 5, 2007, but quickly resulted in a mistrial. Prior to the opening statements, a member of the defense team had requested that the judge not allow statements about Lee’s previous conviction in 1994. However, the prosecution noted in opening statements Lee told deputies during the 2004 incident he had “been through this before and beat it.” The district attorney’s office plans to bring the case back to Floyd Superior Court the following year. At this point, the CBLDF has spent over $80,000 on Lee's defense over the nearly three years that it has been involved.
On Friday 18 April 2008, it was announced in Neil Gaiman's blog
that the case has been dismissed.
Effects of the case
The charges against Lee have unnerved many shop owners who are concerned about distributing materials that could result in them receiving similar charges. One store owner in Georgia stated that "We are a smaller community, very similar to the community that Gordon is in. We will special order [controversial comic Lost Girls
] for anybody, but we will not have it out on display."
Lee entered the news for unrelated reasons when he chased two women who have been charged with stealing two puzzles based on the movie The Nightmare Before Christmas
from his store. In an attempt to stop the women, Lee jumped on the hood of their car, and was thrown off unhurt after riding on the hood for a block. The women were later charged with shoplifting, and the driver was charged with aggravated assault.