City Attorney Casey Gwinn campaigns against pornography and domestic violence

Attracts Christians and gay politicos

'On Monday of this week in the San Diego Schools, at Pershing Middle School, where my daughter attends, I had to go and file a sexual harassment complaint against children who were harassing my daughter, and for the first time in my life I felt absolutely helpless to deal with something that my daughter had been struggling with for almost four and a half months." The distraught father was talking to more than 300 hushed listeners. He went on to say that he had gone to the school and met with his 12-year-old daughter's teacher. The two started looking through textbooks used each day by the students.

"After about five minutes we found, written in a textbook, a very extensive statement pretending to be the handwriting of my daughter, in the name of my daughter, soliciting her own sexual assault," the father told the crowd gathered last May in the ballroom of the Paradise Point Resort in Mission Bay. "And yesterday, the vice principal informed us that they had identified the boy who had written that in the book and disciplinary proceedings were proceeding with the school police and that he had acknowledged that he had written what I would describe as one of the most graphic descriptions of a rape of a child that I could possibly imagine involving my 12-year-old daughter and I have absolutely no doubt at all that that boy, age 12, had to have been impacted profoundly by the impact of sexually explicit images in his life."

The speaker was San Diego City Attorney Casey Gwinn, and it was not the first time he had told a crowd about his personal life to sway them into action against pornography. On September 23 last year, at the Marriott Hotel in Mission Valley, Gwinn was the featured speaker for the first public meeting of Citizens for Community Values in San Diego (CCV), a year-and-a-half-old anti-pornography group. One-hundred twenty-five people paid $25 apiece to hear Gwinn's topic: "Why Pornography Isn't Harmless Entertainment: The Challenge Facing San Diego." Gwinn told the crowd about an unnamed friend who, after watching soft-core pornography on cable TV, ended up in a treacherous slide down a slippery slope that cost him his marriage.

"About two years ago I had a very dear friend that began to share with me the impact of pornography on his own marriage relationship as he and his wife were separated and were in counseling and he disclosed to me a number of sexual relations that he had outside his marriage relationship, and I initially didn't connect it to pornography because I was up here thinking, 'This is simply about sexual violence and a criminal issue; it is really not about the issue of relationship,'" Gwinn said. "And as he began to share with me, that the beginning of his fantasies about having a sexual relationship outside of marriage started with pornography, it started with watching cable-access channels at 11 o'clock at night.

"It started with fantasies about it and then ordering videotapes, going to adult bookstores and viewing videos in peep-show booths over a period of about a year and a half until finally he had the opportunity, and he chose to take the opportunity, to be unfaithful to his wife, and once he had done it once, it became easier the second time and the third time, and he literally destroyed his marriage relationship over a period of about three and a half years," Gwinn said.

He later talked about his own struggle.

"There is a great deal of repentance in this that is necessary for all of us, me included, because I, too, am subject to those images everywhere I go. Any businessman or businesswoman in this room knows that when you are in a hotel room in the middle of nowhere, halfway across America, you are subjected to all kinds of temptation of all kinds that can impact your life profoundly, and by the grace of God many of us have been delivered from it and others have succumbed to it."

Gwinn told the group that to fight pornography, they would need to raise money.

"The campaign that we are envisioning over the next five years in San Diego is $1.6 million," he said at the May 27 event.

"Irrespective of your faith, I believe you are here for a divine appointment. We stand together in that. I am a Christian, but I stand with the Nation of Islam tonight, I stand with the Roman-Catholic church tonight and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and the Presbyterians and St. Stephens and on and on. We stand together, not because people of all faiths will turn this around, in and of ourselves, but because in a society that has rejected absolutes, we as people of faith must redefine absolutes so that we can then go out to the entire community and say there is right and there is wrong, and there are consequences for choosing to ignore right and wrong, consequences that impact all of us profoundly."

The CCV is a spin-off of the National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families (NCPCF), a Cincinnati, Ohio-based anti-pornography group. Founder Jerry Kirk, former chairman and current co-chair of the Religious Alliance Against Pornography (RAAP) and an ex-Presbyterian minister, established the national coalition in 1983.

According to the CCV's first newsletter, it "networks" with Focus on the Family, a conservative religious organization based in Colorado Springs famous for its battle with Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt.

The list of behavior deemed unacceptable by the national group and its local chapters are broad. Five years ago the Citizens for Community Values of Cincinnati started monitoring how schools teach AIDS awareness and watching for a "homosexual agenda" among members of its city council and school board, according to a February 15, 1994, story in the Columbus Dispatch.

The group gained a national reputation in 1990 when it asked the Hamilton County prosecutor to investigate obscenity: a Contemporary Arts Center's exhibit of 170 Robert Mapplethorpe photographs, many depicting homosexual or sadomasochistic acts. The prosecutor's investigation led to obscenity charges against the director of the center. The director was acquitted, but Phil Burress, president of the Cincinnati group, told the Columbia Dispatch the attack was a victory for families because "nothing like Mapplethorpe has dared come to town since," he said.

In 1998 the national coalition was looking for "Strategic Model Cities" where it could expand its crusade. It chose San Diego, Atlanta, and Memphis. Gwinn's presence here was decisive, says Darcy Taylor, vice president of the "Strategic Model Cities" program. "We look for a number of things, one being the legal climate in terms of the District Attorney or the City Attorney and whether or not there is a willingness to help curb the proliferation of pornography in a city," Taylor said. "We brought in $90,000 worth of seed money -- at least we did in San Diego anyway -- so we are looking to make sure that our investment yields some returns in regards to the city's willingness to look at the issue."

While Gwinn encourages "every person" to join the group, he is not officially a member. Board members of the local chapter include Bishop George McKinney, its original founder. McKinney is a member of the Religious Alliance Against Pornography and friend of the NCPCF's Kirk for 19 years. George Mitrovich, president of the Ecumenical Council and City Club of San Diego, is also a member, along with the Reverend Emily McColl, a Presbyterian minister. Kent Peters, director of the Office of Social Ministry for the Catholic Diocese has been a member since the start. Clyde Romney of Dawson & Associates (formerly the Flannery Group) represents the Mormon community on the board. The newest member is Dr. Donald P. Buteyn, the associate for visitation and a representative of the Rancho Bernardo Presbyterian Church, according to executive director Gina Holloway.

Gwinn, one of the most active nonmembers, says Mitrovich first introduced him to the national coalition when Mitrovich called him just about the time a new gay-owned adult bookstore was opening in Councilman Juan Vargas's district. "I think that George probably called me maybe a year ago or between six months ago and a year ago -- I don't know if I could peg you on the exact date -- and asked if I wanted to get involved in this, and I said that I would be very interested in getting involved with it for a number of reasons," Gwinn said in a phone interview. "I have seen a very strong link between pornography and child abuse and sexual assault as a prosecutor for many years."

Besides speaking out against porn at fund-raising banquets, Gwinn says his top anti-porn priority is to draft new laws against what he says is "not neutral entertainment." He says he understands the constitutional limits of eradicating pornography but says that porn shops belong as far away as possible. "I'd say, somewhere out in the desert would be good, Twentynine Palms maybe. How about the outskirts of Ramona? People could drive out there."

Gwinn also wants reins put on the Internet. "Just the cover pages of most websites are stunning and nauseating to those who realize the impact that this can have so quickly."

But so far, he acknowledges, his record of success against the merchants of porn has been mixed. "I really do think that it has all been very hit and miss.... There have been times when I think one part of the city attorney's office doesn't know what the other part of the city attorney's office is doing because you have attorneys on the civil side of our office who advise the neighborhood code-compliance department, and then you have prosecutors in the code-enforcement unit that enforce the zoning issues, and then you have a vice committee that deals with obscenity and pornography, and my goal is to get everybody on the same page so that you can know what we can and can't do legally. We have got to respect the constitutional rights of businesses that have a right to operate, but by the same token I don't want to have Municipal Code that is unenforceable, that doesn't set rules."

Gwinn oversees 150 lawyers, one of whom, Tristan Higgins-Goodell, was named "Adult Enforcement Liaison" and "Gay and Lesbian Community Liaison" in May. She is reviewing existing language in the Municipal Code to clarify the meaning of Adult Entertainment Ordinance definitions such as "adult bookstore" versus "bookstore" and "mini-motion picture theater" versus "peep-show booth." Higgens-Goddell said she is not doing it "singlehandedly." Gwinn adds that Assistant City Attorney Leslie Devaney had a "fair amount of contact" with the local Citizens for Community Values group and also is working to redraft the city's adult-entertainment ordinances.

Gwinn says he grew up on the 600-acre Mt. Hermon Christian Conference Center, a nondenominational center used for church retreats, in Northern California's Santa Cruz mountains. His father was director of the center until 1978, about the time Gwinn graduated from the 800-student San Lorenzo Valley High School, where he had been involved in student government.

After high school, Gwinn went off to Stanford, where he graduated with a political science degree and then went to law school at UCLA. In his second year there he met and married his wife Beth. They have two daughters, 12 and 11, and a 9-year-old son. After law school he got a job as a deputy city attorney in San Diego. His first public attention came when he started working in the city attorney's Domestic Violence Unit in 1985.

In the first six weeks as head of the unit, according to published reports, he won 19 of 21 cases and has since prosecuted more than 10,000. Gwinn's hard line against domestic violence has won him plaudits from American Lawyer magazine, which declared him one of the top 45 legal advisors in the nation. Gwinn picked up throngs of high-profile female supporters, who became a driving force in his nascent political career.

He was elected city attorney in 1996 after his boss, incumbent John Witt, bowed out of the race at the last minute and Gwinn ran unopposed. His domestic-violence work allowed him to pick up the endorsement of liberals like Santa Monica Democrat Sheila Kuehl, the state's first-ever lesbian assemblywoman.

"I always thought that Casey was an interesting combination of deeply religious man who had very strong absolutist beliefs about what was moral and the interesting sensitivity he showed to issues, what other people would call women's issues," Kuehl says, adding that when it comes to gay and lesbian issues "he gets it" and in the religious sense, he is "modern."

One popular move among gays was Gwinn's 1994 endorsement of state domestic-violence legislation that applied to same-gender couples. Kuehl describes herself as "antagonistic" toward pornography and likes Gwinn so much that earlier this year she gave $250 to his reelection campaign fund.

As for Gwinn's role as a fundraiser for a group with close ties to the National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families, Kuehl isn't concerned.

"I don't really know the deeply religious man that well, the man I know is the activist in the domestic-violence movement," she said. "He has been very supportive of me personally and professionally, and I would hope that he would stick to his highest principles and not allow himself to be manipulated by other groups that may have a different agenda from his."

Gwinn says he is different from some of the company he keeps.

"I am probably middle of the road on this issue [pornography]. I think there are probably people in the anti-pornography movement that would like to see every pornographer whipped publicly, branded for life, and paraded around in public. I am not in that category," he said, adding that he is also in a category of his own because gays and lesbians "absolutely" deserve equal rights, he says.

"In working with the gay and lesbian community, it is to invest my life one-on-one with them and build relationships.... Sheila and I are a perfect example of that. Sheila and I probably don't agree on five out of ten political issues, but the other five we do agree on."

Mary Jo Asbury, the principal of Pershing Middle School, where Gwinn's daughter goes to school, wouldn't say if Gwinn's representation of the incident involving his daughter and the boy who wrote the rape threat against her in a textbook was accurate. "I think that Mr. Gwinn is a father and was hurt for his child because his child had seen something written about her," Asbury says. According to Gwinn, the male student left school early last year, and Asbury said the problem has been taken care of. Neither Asbury nor Gwinn, however, would say whether the child was suspended, but Gwinn's daughter will be returning to Pershing Middle School.

Unlike Gwinn, Asbury won't blame porn for the rape threat. "It's difficult to blame it on one specific thing," Asbury says, acknowledging that children today are exposed to much more "sophisticated images" and violent video games than in years past. "We have experienced many of the things they are experiencing, perhaps in terms of pornography, profanity, and violence," she says, "but not to the same degree or at the same age that they are experiencing it."

According to CCV director Gina Holloway, Gwinn has accepted an invitation to speak at another luncheon on October 6 at the California Center for the Arts in Escondido -- just in time to kick off October's national "Scorn Porn Month," sponsored by the National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families and the Citizens for Community Values.

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