EmpowerU Studio at Frame USA
225 Northland Blvd
Cincinnati Ohio 45246
Tuesday, April 4, 2023
7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Just Added to the Program: Dennis Barrie – The Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center from 1983-1992
Why the Jury Verdict of Not Guilty was Correct. When the Mapplethorpe photos arrived by truck on March 28, 1990, Cincinnati had a widely held and mostly earned reputation as one of the most conservative cities in America. Hamilton County Sheriff Simon Leis Jr. was waiting for the photographs. In his mind, the photographs were smut, not art. A collection of challenging photographs and difficult questions about sex and sacrilege, art and obscenity, politics and polemics. (Simon Leis, Jr. shown below).
The art show, titled The Perfect Moment, opened on a chilly April morning in 1990, and among the first people through the door of the Contemporary Arts Center were nine members of a grand jury who viewed the 175 photographs and deemed seven of them to be not just offensive, but criminal. Eventually, the question of what free speech is and what is too much would be heard in a Municipal Court room After a week of explicit and evocative photographs and expert testimony, a jury went into its room for what was expected to be a long haul and a certain outcome. (Robert Maplethorpe shown below).
H. Louis Sirkin, the attorney representing the CAC and Barrie, said at the time of the decisions: “It’s so intellectually wrong, it’s incredible.” Sirkin continued: “All I can tell you is, if we get an acquittal, we’re absolutely brilliant.”
H. Louis Sirkin is one of the nation’s preeminent First Amendment and criminal defense attorneys. Over more than 50 years of practice, Sirkin has consistently defended the free speech and constitutional rights of countless individuals and businesses, including adult entertainment establishments, museums, artists, activists, and ordinary citizens in all types of cases. Lou is both a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and the American Board of Criminal Lawyers.
Born in Cincinnati, Sirkin obtained both his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Cincinnati. He entered private practice and quickly earned a reputation as an effective civil rights lawyer. He achieved national prominence in 1990 when he successfully defended the director of the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati against obscenity charges for displaying the nude artwork of Robert Mapplethorpe. The controversy was later depicted in the Golden Globe-winning movie Dirty Pictures (2000). He has served as President of the First Amendment Lawyers Association and the Greater Cincinnati Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.
Sirkin is a true believer and has distinguished himself as a compassionate mentor, a sought-after lecturer, and a tireless advocate. He has represented persons whose message was completely contrary to his own beliefs and has risked both his career and his physical safety to do so. He was once escorted out the rear door of the courthouse to avoid being assaulted by individuals who opposed his clients. But perhaps Sirkin’s most notable accomplishment was his 2002 victory before the United States Supreme Court in Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition.
In addition, he has defended on appeal numerous individuals on death row. In total, he has handled more than 125 appeals in civil and criminal cases.
Sirkin frequently lectures to students at the country’s top universities, participating in panels at Harvard University, New York University, the University of Cincinnati, the University of Michigan, and Northern Kentucky University, to name a few. He has served as an Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of Cincinnati, where he taught habeas corpus law and a First Amendment seminar.