Circuit Judge Maynard Swanson has removed himself from the case of a man charged with violating pornography and racketeering laws after the man implied that he and the judge are kindred spirits on the subject of First Amendment issues. Swanson said Friday that he was "rather shocked" at comments earlier in the week by Dennis Sobin, who compared the judge's work years ago as a private attorney to Sobin's crusade against the pornography and racketeering charges.
In removing himself, Swanson said he wanted to avoid any appearance of impropriety.
"To me, he was suggesting that because at one time I did civil liberty work, I would give him a break," Swanson said after the court proceeding. "He was appealing to me to be something to him other than a judge.
"I was rather shocked that anyone would suggest that. I never had either a lawyer or a defendant accuse me of that before and, frankly, that irritated me. It irritated me quite a lot."
Those emotions led to Swanson's decision.
"When I combined my feelings for him after he said that and the appearance of impropriety, I realized it would be better for everyone if I removed myself from the case," Swanson said.
He notified Circuit Judge Lowell Bray, the county's administrative judge, to ask that someone else be appointed to the case. The new judge probably will be Circuit Judge Wayne Cobb, he said.
Sobin, 47, and his common-law wife, Eleanor Pohorylo, both face two counts of racketeering. The charges include the offenses of prostitution, fraud, exploitation of children and possessing obscene literature.
As he awaits trial, Sobin has kept a high profile at the courthouse, granting interviews, waving picket signs and writing letters. He says he is a political activist who champions First Amendment rights and issues.
Sobin was arrested in Pasco County in February and accused of videotaping two children in sexually explicit positions.
In May, he filed a civil lawsuit against Pasco Sheriff Jim Gillum and Assistant State Attorney Robert Attridge. He accuses Gillum of slander and libel and Attridge of conspiracy to commit perjury and obstruction of justice.
He has taken his complaints to the governor's office and recently received a letter of response from the governor's general counsel.
J. Hardin Peterson told Sobin that an official with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement would call him to discuss the matter.