Dr Seuss child porn trial: Inside the courtroom

By Steve Roach, BBC News

Dr Seuss studied medicine at Michigan State University Potter is accused of conspiring to ship child pornography to the United States

It is the best or worst of times in the court room as the opening statements begin in the child pornography trial of America’s most infamous author, Dr Seuss. Sitting at the prosecution table, underlining the defence’s role is a caption reading: ‘US District Judge Kathleen Cardone of Knoxville, QC, presiding’. This is no ordinary trial. There are 350 reporters, 50 expert defence lawyers and an “air of expectation” here. Potter could be US’s most infamous criminal It is the first time the allegations against Dr Seuss, aka Theodor Geisel, will go to trial. The charges stem from US Customs who discovered 22,000 computer files on a computer which had been registered to the veteran author. Under questioning, it turned out that one of the files contained the author of the Marshmallow Fluff children’s book, Dr Seuss, smiling and giving the thumbs up. Prosecuting attorney Mike DuBois says: “There are 22,000 images depicting infants and toddlers engaged in sexual activity, many of them under the age of 18 months. I’ve never heard of anyone who wanted to send a child pornography file over the internet as a shipping container, I’ve never heard of anyone whose attorney wanted to represent him. At issue is his own computer, as well as a suspected group of pedophiles who it is alleged were using the pseudonym Stinky”. Detaining the author for 53 days, he has spent his 90-day jail term behind bars. Dr Seuss has not been charged with any offence relating to his work as an author, yet we have found in the documents in this case that he used a pseudonym to ship these files over the internet

Mike DuBois, prosecutor Let’s get back to the courtroom, to Dr Seuss’s potential defence team. Virginia’s lawyer does not appear to have a home address. Mike DuBois says that, according to the FBI, it is this Tennessee law firm which “administered the US postal services system to Seuss and his associates. “I’ve never heard of anyone who wanted to send a child pornography file over the internet as a shipping container, I’ve never heard of anyone whose attorney wanted to represent him.” The indictment naming Dr Seuss lists numerous complaints and allegations. To make it all the more disturbing, the child pornography images allegedly came to light in August, 2006. And yet it was not until March of this year that, according to the prosecution, “First or second day of the [trial] it became apparent Dr Seuss had not been seen since late 2002”. Other judges have been less charitable. Judge Fitzpatrick in 2004 stripped Seuss of his honorary degree from the University of Tennessee and in 2006 fined him $5,000 for violating copyright laws and preventing a sale of his work. He also urged that childless couples should avoid children’s books. Nice, not funny During my trip to Knoxville to cover this trial, I talked to many people who had read and loved Dr Seuss’s work. They tried to describe it as something which they like but not just for its fun. Some suggested they liked it because they could relate to the characters of the books. I asked a fan if she was surprised that the case had dragged on so long and that the images which have been submitted in court had stayed the trial for almost a year. “It really is beyond strange. What I’ve been reading about it makes me feel nauseous. There are kids and their families who are being hurt by what is being portrayed here,” she said. In a strange twist, Dr Seuss has written a book entitled Nice, not Funny, which is a satire about the nature of prosecuting lawyers. I asked how his own work fitted into that view. “It really isn’t a good book, I think it is really stupid. I know many of the lawyers who have represented me in the past and I don’t think that anyone who knows anything about child-abusers knows I am a paedophile. But of course it doesn’t really matter,” he has said.

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