Clyde DeWitt, Adult Entertainment Attorney

Bitter Success Interviews, Lawyer 10 Comments

Current title and employer?

Owner, Law Offices of Clyde DeWitt
Years in practice: 35

Law school? Education background?

JD, University of Houston Law Center (1973)
Masters of Science in Accountancy, University of Houston Graduate School of Business (1976)
Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering, Milwaukee School of Engineering (1970)

How did you get into porn?

“Porn” implies media, and I represent gentlemen’s clubs as well. I identify my area of concentration as “adult entertainment,” which is more accurate for the additional reason that much of what I do includes challenges that do not relate to the fact that the material involved is “porn”—a term I don’t particularly like. For example, you don’t need to be in an adult media business to have issues of business structure, employment, copyrights, trademarks, business contracts, business disputes, leases and so on. Where my practice is different from general media or entertainment businesses arises when there is a battle with government where my ally is the First Amendment.

Aside from that, the way I found myself involved in it is kind of funny. I spent the first seven years of my legal career in the District Attorney’s Office in Houston, Texas (1973-1980). During my last couple years there, I was general counsel for the district attorney—a fancy name for the guy who defends the district attorney and his then 175 assistants when they get sued, which they do, believe it or not. In 1979, Texas enacted tangible amendments to its obscenity statutes, and 28 adult-business plaintiffs sued 43 governmental defendants, challenging the constitutionality of some of the new provisions. My boss drafted me to defend the case. Even though it was part of my job description, I did so reluctantly. To make it worse, the federal judge handling the case was an adjunct professor at the University of Houston’s law school. He remembered me from a class he taught and designated me “lead counsel.”

In any event, one of the legion of attorneys for the adult business was John Weston. Over the course of the case, he and I became friends. I won (regrettably!), so ultimately, when I left the DA’s office, I became associated with his firm. The association lasted 27 years (I was an equity partner the last 17), culminating early this year.

Okay, be honest, why did you really get into porn law?

I love constitutional law. It is incredibly intellectually challenging—a melting of politics and law. When I was in the DA’s office, I spent three years in the appellate division, and I loved doing the cases with constitutional issues. So, I jumped at the chance to focus on it.

What is a typical day like for you?

Putting aside days in court, taking depositions, settlement conferences and meetings with clients and others (all of which happen with some regularity), I stare into a computer monitor. I receive close to 100 emails a day (excluding duplicates and spam) to which I am required to respond; and generally I am on the phone quite a bit. That is because I am constantly answering client inquiries as to how to respond to particular legal problems—although sometimes the analysis is as much business as legal. Much of my litigation practice is motion-oriented, so I am called upon to accomplish mountains of writing.

In porn, everyone’s a star, but have you represented any clients that are, well, household names?

Yes, quite a few, but I can’t name them.

Have you ever dated one of your clients? Do you get asked that a lot?

No and yes.

What’s the one thing about the porn business that most “regular” people wouldn’t know?

That the businesses are run by regular people.

This struck me a year or two ago when I went to a birthday party thrown by one of the central figures in the San Fernando Valley adult video industry. It was for his one-year-old daughter. Present were principals in probably a majority of the major adult video companies; all of which you would recognize if you had any familiarity with the industry. I observed to one of them who is an long-time friend, although I don’t represent him, that nobody outside the industry who observed this scene (maybe 60 people) would believe that the guests collectively controlled a majority of the adult video output in America. They were just regular people; couples with children, wearing casual clothes, eating barbeque, drinking iced tea, wine and beer. It could have been a hardware convention.

These are just regular business people. They, for the most part, are not weirdoes, swingers or otherwise eccentric.

Do you feel respected?

By whom? The adult industry? I think so. The Christian Right? No way!

What advice would you give a lawyer who wanted to do what you do?

To be an adult entertainment lawyer, you need adult entertainment clients. Not many adult entertainment business owners are going to want to retain an attorney knowing that this is his/her first adult entertainment client. The only way to break in is to become connected with a law firm that is heavily involved in this area of practice and grow with the firm.

But the stronger advice I would give is, “Don’t do it!”—unless you just fall into it, as I did. The legal challenges in the industry are less frequent because it is becoming more accepted, and the video industry is shrinking due to rampant piracy. Successful attorneys become successful because they go to work for good law firms, find good mentors and follow the lead.

What was the most surreal moment in your practice?

I don’t know that I can identify one. In dealing with censorship, which I do quite a bit, I am mystified by how politicians can get so exercised about adult entertainment. They have no clue the extent to which the voting public at large doesn’t much care about the topic one way or another.

Who are your role models?

My mentor, the late Bill Burge, was the first boss I had in the DA’s office. Unfortunately, he lost a battle with cancer about 10 years ago. Long after I left Houston, I kept in touch with him. We regularly brainstormed issues each of us was facing. Sorry that it isn’t some celebrity.

Why does the adult lawyer specialty seem to be dominated by men?

It does? Back when I was in Houston, Marian Rosen was as good an adult entertainment lawyer as there was in the whole state. Cathy Crosson, in Indiana, who works with me, has done spectacular work in the field for decades. Jennifer Kinsley in Ohio is clearly a rising star of the profession, which Corey Begner in Atlanta has been for decades. Nanci Clarence and Kate Dyer in San Francisco have done outstanding work over the years in this area. I apologize to any who didn’t come to mind.

I will agree with you that in terms of numerosity, men do dominate the roster of adult entertainment attorneys. I think the reason is that most of the attorneys who are heavily involved in this are from my generation (I am 60). When I was in law school, I think we had less than ten women in a class of almost 350, and that was the norm. So, the bulk of the attorneys in the adult entertainment arena are from a generation of lawyers in which the entire profession is dominated by males. And the amount of litigation has dwindled, so there hasn’t been the need to absorb new attorneys.

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  • Anonymous

    Look at the cans on that blonde!

  • J. Edwin

    Cool interview.

  • Pacific Reporter

    I wonder how often he gets paid in “services”. I bet porn stars have a higher billing rate than this guy.

  • Big Law Dude

    Nice interview. Never even knew such a guy existed.

  • Fan

    Cool interview.  Real lawyer in sort of unreal profession.

  • Theresa

    interesting interview.

  • Law Dude

    Great reading

  • Shelly

    loved this interview very interesting

  • Hannah Palindrome

    What is a typical day like for this guy? Watching PORN! Duh. What a boring job. There is so much bad porn out there. I HOPE THEY NEVER MAKE A PORNO WITH TWO LAWYERS. ZZZZZZZZZ

  • manning

    mr dewitt, since you have instructed your telephone and cable provider to send me (unsolicited) your monthly statements, showing home numbers, video/cable services, and Internet access – do I have the right to bill you for filing services?