Attorney's porn site work lifts eyebrows
Source: The Star-Ledger
By Peter N. Spencer and Matthew J. Dowling
Date: October 02, 2003
The municipal attorney for five towns in Hunterdon, Warren and Somerset counties has been offering free legal advice to operators of pornography Web sites as a way to drum up business for the Internet law portion of his Warren Township-based practice.
Eric M. Bernstein said his firm earns money from the adult entertainment industry, but it does not interfere with his work for municipal governments. In addition, he said he notified municipal officials of his involvement with Internet pornography law.
"I advised all of them of my involvement so they had an opportunity to let me know if they objected to it," said Bernstein, who declined to identify his clients in the adult entertainment business.
High Bridge Mayor Al Schweikert said he's received at least 20 calls from outraged residents this week and was personally revolted by Bernstein's position as a moderator for chat.ynotmasters.com.
The Web site serves as an information resource for Internet porn operators and a forum for porn industry news. It does not show pornographic material.
"If he is capable of making these types of decisions in his own life, he shouldn't be making decisions about our town," Schweikert said. High Bridge hired Bernstein in February over Schweikert's objections because he favored Bernstein's predecessor.
Schweikert said a time stamp on one of Bernstein's posts shows he was dispensing advice on the forum when he should have been at a borough council meeting. Bernstein sent another member of his firm in his place, Schweikert said.
In addition to High Bridge, Bernstein serves as municipal attorney for Franklin Township and Lebanon Township in Hunterdon County, North Plainfield in Somerset County and Washington Township in Warren County.
Despite Bernstein's assertion that he informed the municipalities of his legal work for adult entertainment clients, only Lebanon Township Mayor Jay Weeks said he knew of the ties before being contacted by a reporter this week.
Weeks said he was made aware of Bernstein's ties to the adult entertainment industry several months ago. Though he has never discussed it with Bernstein directly, Weeks said he didn't believe it was a problem.
"How he makes his money is his business," Weeks said. "I personally don't have any problem with it because it doesn't interfere with our township. Nobody seemed to raise any questions about it."
Nathan Rudy, a member of the North Plainfield Council, called Bernstein's position as a moderator of the legal advice forum for Internet porn providers "troubling" and was unaware of his involvement.
"Municipal service and Internet porn, while both legal activities, don't mix well," Rudy said. Bernstein has been serving as the borough's attorney for about seven years.
North Plainfield Mayor Janice Allen said she knew Bernstein gave "some legal advice to an Internet client," but she did not know specifics.
Allen said Bernstein had served the borough well as an attorney and noted that he helped the town obtain a court order to close an adult video store in 1997. She said she planned to talk to Bernstein about his other endeavors in the adult entertainment field.
Washington Township Mayor John Horensky said he also was unaware of Bernstein's legal work for the adult entertainment industry. Bernstein has been Washington Township's attorney for 17 years and has served the township well, he said.
"This is a complete surprise," Horensky said. "I was not aware about it at all. I certainly will have a conversation with Mr. Bernstein."
Bernstein declined to say how much of his firm's revenue comes from clients in the adult entertainment business.
"Internet pornography is a huge industry," said E. Judson Jennings, a professor at Seton Hall Law School who teaches a course on Internet law. "There's no doubt about it. In this area of law, there's a lot of money to be made."
Every time Bernstein posts a message on the Web site, it provides a link to his firm's home page next to his comments. He is one of two moderators on the legal forum of the Webset.
"Is it any more or less reprehensible than representing the developer that people hate, or a criminal that may not be totally in line with people's morals?" Bernstein asked. "I do not ask prospective clients if they approve of this or that other client."
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