Lawrence S. Huffman: Getting in the last word


By Lawrence S. Huffman - Guest Columnist



The decision of the United States Supreme Court was met with a variety of responses from the various segments and groups in the population. I don’t think many local people changed their mind about whether action should be taken to close a theater engaged in exhibiting obscene movies. I had heard from many people who felt that their “right” to entertain themselves with obscenity should not be disturbed by the courts. I had had many anonymous phone calls and letters from these people with basically the same message which was, “Who in the hell do you think you are telling me what I can see in a movie theater?” My response to them usually was, “I am not telling you what you have a right to see, I am telling the theater operator what he can show you.” After a full recitation of their four-letter word vocabulary, the communication usually ended. It wasn’t all one-sided though. I had a lot of support and encouragement from some really good people like J. Paul Fisher, Sharon Bresler, Monsignor E.C. Herr, the Rev. Ronald B. Cannon and Bill Keegan, just to name a few.

The reaction of the local media was a mystery to me, however. It was obvious from the start that The Lima News, WIMA, and other media outlets thought that the case was about sex. There is nothing that sparks the interest of the media quite like the lurid “imaginings” of sex. Let’s face it, that’s what helps circulation and listener-base; sex, disgrace, the fall of the mighty, etc.

Since the opinion of the Supreme Court never mentions sex nor describes any of the fleshy antics shown in the films, little recognition was given to the Supreme Court decision in the local media. Even the local Lima News reporter who was a devotee of “skin flicks” was quiet about the significance of the decision. The only mention from the Toledo Blade reporter whose beat was the federal court was a brief comment that Lima’s four-year war on “smut” had ended.

Edwin Newman, an NBC television newsman in the 1960s and 1970s, wrote a book that was published in 1974 called “Strictly Speaking.” Newman fancied himself a guardian of the written word and cataloged examples of poor grammar, improper syntax and poor usage. Included in his 195-page missive was a chapter on brevity. He thought that people who wrote more than they needed to get their point across were a particular nuisance.

He thought he had an example of wordiness when one of his researchers found that during the briefing for Huffman vs. Pusue Ltd., the court had issued an order that my brief was not consistent with one of the rules of court. That rule was styled “LENGTH OF BRIEFS.” That was enough for Newman to decide that the court was criticizing my brief for being too long. He cited the case and the court’s order as the source for this assertion. Local folks who read the book recognized the case name from local reporting. For many months after the book was released, local wags heckled me for submitting “a brief that was not brief enough.” Had Newman read the rule or the court’s order, he would have discovered that the actual error was that a too-small font had been used in a caption for one of the time-motion studies which was attached to the brief. This was easily corrected, but that fact would not have provided any chaff for his book.

The decision itself was widely reported on and commented on at the time because it made new law in the United States. This case was the first case ever decided by the Supreme Court in which they held that before a civil case claiming a violation of a federal constitutional right could be removed from the state court to a federal court, the party making the violation claim had to first submit to the state court appellate process. It made new law in this country. Pursue Ltd. had not done that. Remember that they sued me in the federal court the day after the state decision was announced without first appealing to the state appellate court. Pursue Ltd. vs. Huffman is routinely taught in constitutional law courses in law schools. More significantly, it is cited in other court cases in federal and state cases as being “the law.” The most recent such case I could find was a May 26, 2017, decision in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. It has been cited in 17 state court decisions, 1225 U.S. District Court decisions, 379 Federal Court of Appeals decisions, and 38 other Supreme Court decisions as well as 304 law review articles. For any of my fellow members of the bar, the citation to the case is 95 S. Ct. 1200, 43 L. Ed. 2d 482, 420 U.S. 592, 604 (1975).

We have covered the past decision mindset of all of the parties “interested” in the case except Pursue Ltd. The local people who owned the theater building, or the owners of Pursue Ltd., had managed to take out of the building all the theater seats, projection equipment and other personal property. This, obviously, meant that the theater was closed for good. They left a typewritten note on the inside of the glass door which said “this establishment closed for business because of the activities of Lawrence S. Huffman, Prosecuting Attorney.” I didn’t pay any attention to it because I was on to other things by then. However, some weeks or months later, one of my kids asked me, “Dad, why is our name up on the marquee of the movie theater?” I had to confess my ignorance on the subject, but I went by a day or two later and sure enough, up on the marquee it said, “Heil Huffman.” I had to admit to myself that Pursue Ltd. got in the last word.

Moral of the Story: Don’t be a sore loser.

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By Lawrence S. Huffman

Guest Columnist

Lawrence S. Huffman is an attorney in Lima and a guest columnist in The Lima News.

Lawrence S. Huffman is an attorney in Lima and a guest columnist in The Lima News.

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