Maryland record store owners and lawyers involved in First Amendment issues reacted with dismay yesterday to the conviction of a Florida record store owner on obscenity charges.
And those familiar with state law say that similar prosecutions could happen here, though none could recall successful prosecutions in the last several years under local obscenity statutes.
"I am so offended," said Mike Richman, owner/manager of the four-store Recordmasters chain, reacting to the conviction of Charles Freeman, who sold a copy of 2 Live Crew's "Nasty As They Wanna Be" album to an undercover policeman in June, prompting the charges.
"I think the country is caught up in a real negative situation. We're at a point where people are trying to dictate what other people should listen to."
Bernie Rabinowitz, manager and owner of Music Liberated, which has stores downtown and in Mondawmin Mall, called the conviction "a racial thing down in Florida" and said it was particularly objectionable because the record industry had already begun "policing itself" by placing warning labels on records with explicit lyrics.
Stuart Comstock-Gay, executive director of the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said he was "disappointed PTC but not necessarily surprised" at the verdict. "In many ways, America is becoming a less tolerant place to ideas we don't like," he said, adding, "The First Amendment has been under a great deal of attack. This [conviction] will add fuel to the fire."
Mr. Comstock-Gay said he'd "like to think Maryland officials are more sensitive" to First Amendment issues than those in Florida, but added it would only take "one prosecutor" in any of the state's 24 jurisdictions to have a similar trial in Maryland.
Under Maryland law, anyone found guilty of selling material found to be obscene, including recordings, is subject to a fine up to $1,000 and as much as a year in jail.
William H. Engelman, a Baltimore lawyer who represents area magazine distributors, said the Florida conviction was another example of a "dangerous" trend that includes the trial of the director of an art center in Cincinnati for showing photographs alleged to be obscene.