Gordon Lee Case: Dismissed!

We don’t normally just print press releases, but this is better than some book that may or may not have sold out.  Friday welcomed a major victory for Rome, Georgia comics retailer, Gordon Lee and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.  This case has been going on for over 3 years, and it was based on Wertham-like ignorance against our beloved medium.  If you don’t know about the case, check out the details in the CBLDF’s press release from today.

Congratulations to Mr. Lee and everyone over at the CBLDF for all the good work they do.


CBLDF Wins Gordon Lee Case!

New York – April 23, 2008 – The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund scored a victory last Friday when prosecutors dismissed all charges against Rome, GA retailer Gordon Lee.  Neil Gaiman announced that Judge Larry Salmon signed off on the dismissal on Friday evening at New York Comic Con.

“This is a victory for Gordon, and a victory for comics,” says CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein.  “For more than three years, the comics world has stood behind Gordon’s innocence and now we are vindicated.”

The dismissal comes after more than three years and $100,000 of CBLDF resources were spent to prove Lee’s innocence.  The battle was waged against a prosecutor’s office that grossly overcharged Lee at the start of the case, and proceeded to cause multiple delays, including throwing out and refiling charges a year and a half into the case, and creating a mistrial when the case finally went before a jury last November.

Following the mistrial, Rome District Attorney Leigh Patterson vowed to bring the case back for trial on the next misdemeanor calendar.  Last winter, CBLDF counsel filed a motion to dismiss on grounds of prosecutorial misconduct.  That filing detailed the history of the prosecutor’s errors up to and including the mistrial.  Last February, the next trial calendar came and went without Gordon’s case being called and without that motion being heard.  Shortly afterwards, Patterson’s office contacted Lee’s counsel, and said they would be willing to drop the case if Gordon wrote a letter of apology.  Lee had always been willing to write such a letter, and promptly delivered one to Patterson’s office, where it sat for several weeks.  After multiple attempts to bring the matter to a close, CBLDF counsel finally succeeded in moving Patterson’s office to live up to their end of the agreement and drop the case last Friday.

Lead counsel Alan Begner says, “But for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, and their willingness and ability to go to war on this case, the results might have been much different.  There certainly would have been a trial without our specialized experts, and it would have likely been a felony trial.  It was a worthy fight for them, and a worthy fight for us.”

Begner adds, “The defense of comic books on obscenity charges is a highly specialized area of expertise where even really good criminal lawyers who fight these things without that expertise are at a great disadvantage.  The CBLDF found me — I’m a lawyer who has tried the most obscenity cases of any lawyer in Georgia since the mid 80s, and their knowledge of the field coupled with our specialized knowledge of obscenity law made the difference.  We were also able to network with the First Amendment Lawyers Association, which includes CBLDF’s Burt Joseph and Media Coalition’s Mike Bamberger, two of the great experts in the field, to maximize our strategy.  We believe strongly that if we had gone to trial we’d have won.  But I learned long ago that a win is win, and if they offer to dismiss it, I know not to turn it down.”

Charles Brownstein adds, “This is a great victory for comics.  Because of the support from all levels of the industry, the CBLDF was able to successfully fight back against a prosecutor who seemed determined to run a small retailer out of business.  We were fortunate to engage the best legal team in Georgia, and the best experts in the region.  We’re grateful to Alan & Cory Begner, our lead counsel, and Paul Cadle, our local counsel, for working so aggressively to make this case a win.  And most of all, we’re grateful to all of our supporters for sticking with Gordon through all the ups and downs this case has had.  Thanks to them, we were able to see this through to victory.”

About the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund was founded in 1986 as a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of First Amendment rights for members of the comics community. They have defended dozens of Free Expression cases in courts across the United States, and led important education initiatives promoting comics literacy and free expression.  For additional information, donations, and other inquiries call 800-99-CBLDF or visit http://www.cbldf.org or http://www.myspace.com/cbldf .


  1. Wow, this is great news.  I hope the terms of the dismissal don’t preclude Mr. Lee from doing the rounds on the comic ‘casts to talk about the trial, unless he just wants to put it all behind him for the time being.

  2. I read the release and still have no clue what this case was about. Something about obscenity?

  3. @s1lentslayer – From Wikipedia:

    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.


    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.

  4. Conor:  cleaning up after Josh since 1997.  Or 98.  Hard to specify.

  5. That’s good news, thanks for the update. I hadn’t heard about the incident in 93 before this post, hopefully the great state of Georgia is through raising hell in this guys life.

  6. Well, good for Gordon Lee and the CBLDF.  This whole case was bunch of nonsense from day one.  If they just would have let him apologize from the get go, it would have saved a lot of time and money.  If it was an accident, and the material was not sexually explicit, then let by gones be by gones.

  7. I’m still not seeing how this is a first ammendement issue. I’ll also like to state at this time I’m Canadian, so this could easily be my ignorrance showing here.

  8. This is not going to be a popular opinion, but Josh’s ‘Wertham-like’ comment got to me. Maybe its been the discussion on the Comix-Scholar list, or my own interest in the matter but, is anyone else sick of the bad rep Wertham gets? Sure the man’s work changed the face of comics (positive or negative, its hard to really argue that now), but he did a lot of other positive things too, and was often against censorship.

  9. There’s no arguement against Werthem’s negative impact on comics.  He singlehandedly destroyed genre books and whole companies.

  10. JFernandes (@jdfernandes) says:

    I wonder if the same thing would’ve happened if Lee handed the kid a dvd of Fantasia instead. Non-sexual nudity is non-sexual nudity, but if the words "Walt Disney" are on it, would the mother still have been mad?

  11. Sadly, this kind of behavior from prosecutors is not uncommon.  Be careful out there, folks.

    I think the next time the CBLDF has a booth at a con, I’m going to buy something from them. Alternatively, anyone know if contributions to them are tax-deductible?


  12. @Diabhol – They are.

  13. JFernandes (@jdfernandes) says:

    They’ve got a comic coming out from Image solicited in the latest Previews.



    The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and Image Comics defend your freedom of speech with LIBERTY COMICS, an all-new 32-page, full color comic book crammed cover-to-cover with work by many of today’s top creative talents.  This mature readers anthology is printed in a high quality format and features all-new stories of THE BOYS and CRIMINAL as well as all-new creations from some of your favorite artists. All proceeds benefit the CBLDF and their efforts to protect your creative rights!


  14. @connor I know I didn’t make my point clearly, but the positive impact, I’d consider is the long term impact the code created (i.e. in directly leading to conditions to launch a silver age, etc.) I do admit that is ‘crystal ball gazing’ as we don’t know if the silver age would have happened regardless of the hearings. It is important though to acknowledge that Wertham’s work was used to generate the interest whiched caused the hearings. The CCA was a reaction to that and the failure of previous attempts at self-regulation.


    I’ll stop hijacking this thread now. 

  15. Wertham earned his legacy.  No one’s crying over his ruined rep.

  16.  @scherem — The government charged this guy with a crime because they objected to the content of written material that he distributed.  His defense is based on the constitutionally protected freedom of speech.  That’s what a First Amendment issue IS. 

  17. Thanks for clearing that up ohcaroline. I didn’t think the American first ammendment was for distrubiting, but creating. I.E. protects the writer, not the seller.  What you said actually makes a lot of sense to me.

  18. @ohcaroline – Gordon Lee never presented a defense.  They were able to work out a deal before his legal counsel had a chance to present their defense.  Would they have claimed Lee had the right under the First Amendment to distribute material to children containing male and female nudity along with references to oral sex and masturbation?  Maybe, maybe not.  

    I don’t think the prosecution was going after Lee over the actual material.  I’m fairly certain there was a lot more salacious material in Lee’s shop then what was found in Alternative Comics #2.  I know there certainly is in my own comic book collection. 

    This case has always been not about the material, but the fact that it was given to a 6-year old.   Or a 9-year old.  I think the real lesson in all this is that comic book retailers need to be careful in what they sell or give to children.  We know more then anyone that not all comic books are for kids.  Retailers need to be careful.  Most of them are.