I've tried to avoid blogging about the Judge Kozinski story, because I'm so obviously biased on the subject. I clerked for the Judge. The Judge officiated at my wedding. I talk to him often. I consider him a close friend, he's taught me a huge amount, and he's helped me tremendously in my career, and not just by giving me a valuable credential. What I say on the matter will naturally and properly be discounted because of my bias. Still, I can't help myself any longer, so I'll pass along what I think, and you can give it whatever credit you think is due.
Here's what seems to me to have happened:
A lawyer (Cyrus Sanai) who has long had a grudge against Judge Kozinski finds out that the Kozinski family has a network server with various files on it. The controversial files on that server aren't linked to from the Web, and aren't indexed on search engines. They are generally meant only for family members and a few other people who get specific pointers to them. [UPDATE: Patterico reports that the directory's index was available on Yahoo, though apparently not Google, deep in the results of a search for "alex.kozinski.com"; I presume this was because of some error in kozinski.com's robots.txt file. The lawyer, though, didn't find the files this way, and the files themselves weren't indexed.]
But the lawyer figures out the private server's internal directory structure, rummages around, finds some of the files, and downloads them. And some of the files contain what is basically — if what I saw at Patterico's site is representative — visual sexual humor. There are some spoofs, for instance of the MasterCard commercials, some puns, some absurdities. Kozinski, or someone in his family, apparently got them sent to him, and decided to save them alongside a bunch of other stuff he found interesting or amusing.
Now the fruit of this disgruntled lawyer's rummaging through someone else's personal files somehow becomes a national news story. Why? Because Kozinski is presiding over an obscenity trial? All this stuff — the sort of sexual humor that gets circulated all the time — is not remotely in the same league as what the defendant is being criminally prosecuted for. Recall that the defendant is being prosecuted precisely because his sex-and-defecation movies are so far out even by modern standards of actual pornography. Sanai's discoveries are similar to someone's finding that a judge who's presiding over a drunk driving trial has some screw-top bottles of rosé wine in his cupboard at home, shamelessly displayed in a way that the whole world can see them, if the whole world stands on its tiptoes and peers through a back window. The news value of that would be what, exactly? (Yes, I know screw-tops are becoming legit, but pretend it's ten years ago.)
OK, people are saying, it was careless of Kozinski not to make sure that the site (which was apparently managed by one of Kozinski's grown sons) was properly secured. Sure, in retrospect, whenever something leads to this sort of media circus, by definition one would have been wise to take more care to prevent it. But surely even otherwise reasonable people might fail to plan for their enemies' rummaging around through the files on a private family server.
It's kind of like your parking your car on the street, locking it, but forgetting to close a back window — or like your throwing out something in the trash without shredding it and leaving the trash cans by the curb. Then someone who has a grudge against you comes by and starts using the open window to rummage around in the stuff you have piled up in the back seat, or starts rummaging through your trash. (Note that to my knowledge such rummaging probably isn't even a crime in many places.)
Lo and behold, one of the items your enemy finds is a notebook in which you've pasted some visual sex jokes that people have sent you. He takes pictures of all the pages and then runs to the newspaper; because of your high-profile job, the newspapers all cover this. Should you have closed the back window? Should you have shredded the stuff before putting in the trash? In retrospect, sure. But how many of us live like that in everything we do?
Jeez, folks, Kozinski has a quirky sense of humor, and keeps some joke pictures and videos on his computer rather than throwing them away. I'm sure they aren't the kinds of things some people would enjoy seeing. But he wasn't trying to show them to those people! He was just minding his own business, keeping some files on his own private server. And now it's a national news story.
Enough already. As Larry Lessig puts it, no-one should be put in the position of "hav[ing] to defend publicly private choices and taste" in a situation like this. We should all leave Kozinski to his own privately expressed sense of humor, as we'd like the world to leave us to ours.