Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

Home > Letters to CR

Charles Brownstein on Questions Regarding Customs Story
posted December 6, 2004

The following is also present at the bottom of this story, to which it directly relates.

Charles Brownstein
Executive Director
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

Hi Tom,

Here are our answers to the questions you blogged this morning. Feel free to e-mail me directly if you have anything else.

1. Why did it take so long to get this matter released to the press? Did it really take five weeks or more to get this voted on?

On the advice of counsel we held the story until it was clear that the request had enough time to start moving through the system. We had to submit our challenge on November 24, which is right before the government shut down for Thanksgiving. We wanted to ensure that Customs had enough time to start processing our
request before making an announcement. It would have been counter-productive to the goal of getting the books released to blindside Customs with a news article before they had the chance to properly receive our letter requesting legal action.

2. Why would the head of the CBLDF not immediately see this as a First Amendment issue the way it seems the Executive Director and legal counsel did?

No one saw the actual materials until late November because after the notice of seizure was received by Top Shelf in early November we had to get copies of the actual books sent over to form a legal opinion. Functionally, Chris and I first saw the material at the same time, he on November 19, me and Burt on November 22. It was only upon seeing the material in question that a First Amendment legal opinion could be formed.

3. Since Chris Staros in Newsarama said he recused himself from the vote since he brought it to the board's attention, does that mean he would not recuse himself from a vote for being in a publishing relationship with someone?

Chris obviously supported the issue, but felt that it wouldn't be prudent to vote on the matter since he brought the case to the attention of the board. This is standard procedure in organizations where a "conflict of interest" presents itself. As for future voting scenarios, each one would have to be handled on its own merits.

4. Speaking of that Newsarama article, it's dated 11:30 AM but it showed up on my screen at approximately 5 AM Mountain time, and might have been there earlier. I didn't get the press release until late Sunday night. Newsarama's article includes copious quotes from Chris Staros. So tell me:

Newsarama called me about a week ago and had somehow gotten wind of the story. I confirmed that it was true, but that we weren't ready to release it because we wanted Customs to have a full working week to deal with our letter. So in exchange for access to exclusive quotes from me and Chris would they hold the story until we were ready to release it on Monday? They agreed.

But for the record, both Chris and I work long hours and have frequently made ourselves available to reporters at odd hours and on weekends.


Tom Spurgeon Breaks In: Although I had multiple follow-up questions, to stick with my mandate I kept my follow-up questions to clarifications. That exchange went as follows.


Spurgeon: Wasn't the content of Richie Bush already widely known and available?

Brownstein: Yes. The story had appeared in other places, including World War 3 Illustrated and a mini-comic Peter had produced. But we didn't know what specific presentation of Richie Bush was used and we didn't know what the other story was at all. We're not in the business of jumping to conclusions before we have all the facts in, and it
wasn't prudent to speak publicly about the matter until we had all the facts.

Spurgeon: Isn't controlling access to board members based on how it fits in with your administrative needs kind of anti-First Amendment?

Brownstein: I take issue with the word control. Anyone is welcome to call any board member at any time and question them on any CBLDF issue. When Newsarama asked me to confirm what they had heard, I asked them to hold the story because we didn't want to jeopardize the case. Because they agreed, we offered them added depth because they honored our request. This happens all the time in journalism.


Tom Spurgeon One Last Time: Although I suspect there may still be news to report on here, this concludes my commentary until such reporting is done elsewhere that brings it back into my purview.