Indicted talk show host plans to challenge porn laws

A popular San Francisco radio talk show host recently fired after becoming mired in child pornography charges is challenging federal statutes regarding the crimes, according to his attorney who appeared in U.S. District Court on Thursday.

Bernie Ward, 56, is accused of three counts of receiving child pornography, knowingly distributing it and attempting to distribute it in December 2004 and January 2005.

His attorney, Doron Weinberg, contends that the case stems from an error of judgment made by Ward made when he spent a few days exchanging and looking at pornographic images of minors with other adults while researching a book on hypocrisy.

U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker scheduled jury selection and a trial for the week of June 9, but a hearing involving pretrial motions could happen as soon as April.

The motions challenge two established areas of federal law. One area is whether the First Amendment protects journalists from prosecution under criminal pornography laws, Weinberg said. The 4th District Court rejected a journalism shield law when dealing with child pornography in 2000, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

The second motion challenges the rigidity of the mandatory five-year sentence for someone convicted of receiving pornography containing children. Weinberg said that while pornography possession carries penalties as low as no time in prison, the charges of receiving and distributing child pornography each carry a mandatory five-year sentence upon conviction.

“The government has seized a moment in someone’s life and treated him as he’s a lifelong predator,” Weinberg said.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office did not return calls for comment Thursday. The federal charges could land Ward in jail for up to 60 years with a fine of $250,000.

Ward’s contract at radio station KGO, where he hosted a nighttime talk show Monday through Friday and a Sunday morning show called Godtalk, was terminated Dec. 31, but he said Thursday that he and his agent are negotiating for a new contract.

“A number of people hope that I go back on the air,” Ward said outside the federal courtroom.”There are thousands of e-mails and calls saying bring me back.”

Ward, a former Catholic priest who is married and has four children, was charged in an indictment that was unsealed Dec. 7, the day after he pleaded not guilty to the charges.

bbegin@examiner.com

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