How A Porn Magazine Editor Became A Criminal Law Attorney
by Susannah Breslin
When I met Dan Kapelovitz years ago, he was an editor for Hustler magazine. Recently, he reached out to me on LinkedIn, and I noticed he’d become a criminal law attorney. How does one go from editing an adult magazine to practicing law?
How did you get into the adult magazine business?
A friend of mine from college was the Features Editor of Hustler Magazine. He bought a few articles from me, and when he resigned, I was offered the job. Interestingly, we sent him to Afghanistan for six months to cover the war when Larry Flynt was suing the Pentagon for the right to embed reporters with the military.
What was the job like?
The job was great. Because the magazine’s readers are primarily interested in the pictorials, we could write about whatever interested us. We wrote about alien sex cults, politics, music, the porn industry, the Barbi Twins, and much more. Two of the highlights were winning the Project Censored Award for a story on depleted uranium, and getting to interview Anna Nicole Smith right after she directed a photo shoot for the magazine. That gives you a pretty good idea of the diverse subject matter we covered. People are surprised to learn that the atmosphere at the Hustler headquarters is very corporate. There’s a strict dress code, and we were only allowed to dress casually on pay-day Fridays, so only one day every two weeks.
What was working for Flynt like?
Larry Flynt is much more hands-on than most people might imagine. He comes to work every day, and approves all of the pictorials, all of the covers, and even all of the cartoons. The articles were the only part of the magazine that we didn’t have to run by Larry. I only met Larry a couple of times. I interviewed him once for the magazine. He held a meeting with all of the editors to explain why he fired Allan MacDonell, the Editorial Director. Soon after, Allan — who is a comic genius — wrote an instant classic on his experiences at the magazine called Prisoner of X: 20 Years in the Hole at Hustler Magazine.
I was surprised to find you’ve since become a criminal law attorney. Why did you become a lawyer?
When I left Hustler, I worked as a freelance journalist for a year. As a freelancer, you spend more time pitching ideas to editors and trying to collect money from deadbeat publishers than actually researching and writing articles, so it was time to move on. At Hustler, I wrote a lot about criminal law, and each month, I would speak to our attorneys about any legal issues raised by that month’s magazine, which I always enjoyed. I have always been interested in law, but I swore I’d never go back to school. It turned out that I loved law school. And the writing and editing training I received at Hustler was extremely helpful. However, having Hustler on my résumé wasn’t always appreciated by legal employers.
What sort of work do you do?
I do criminal trials now, which is a million times more exciting than working at a law firm sitting behind a computer all day or reviewing a room full of documents. I spent my first summer during law school working for two legal legends on the opposite sides of criminal law. Half of the summer, I did criminal defense work for Art Goldberg of the Working People’s Law Center. He was one of the leaders of the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley in the 1960s. He was denied his law license at first because he had been arrested so many times during protests. And for the other half of the summer, I worked for Bob Ferber who created and ran the Animal Protection Unit, the first of its kind in the nation.
Then, my second summer in law school, I made the worst decision of my legal career. I turned down a job with the Public Defender, and took a job with a corporate law firm. After law school, I went back to work for the corporate law firm, and it was by far the worst year of my life. If any law student out there is thinking of working for a big law firm, please contact me so I can try to talk you out of it. Fortunately, I was able to land a job as a judicial law clerk to a federal judge, which is probably the best job one can get at the beginning of a legal career. I’m probably the only person on Earth who has worked for both Larry Flynt and a federal judge.
During my clerkship, I took a trial advocacy program at night, which qualified me to try misdemeanor cases for the Los Angeles City Attorney, an incredible experience. Now, I’m doing criminal defense work, which is why I went to law school in the first place. It’s a great feeling to fight for people who may have never had anyone fight for them before. These people are often either completely innocent or are facing prison sentences that are greatly disproportionate to the crimes alleged. I’m in the process of opening my own law firm called the Radical Law Center, which focuses on criminal defense. I also plan on doing some animal rights legal work. I’d also love to defend appropriation artists and filmmakers who are falsely accused of copyright infringement. In fact, I recently completed a film called “Triple Fisher: The Lethal Lolitas of Long Island,” in which I splice together the three made-for-TV movies based on the Amy Fisher story. The film is basically a cinematic law review article on copyright law’s Fair Use doctrine.
What’s the difference between being a porn magazine editor and being a criminal law attorney?
Not much. As I noted before, the dress code is pretty much the same. And in both jobs, you spend hours and hours researching and writing something that very few people are going to actually read. I guess one difference is that, in our society, lawyers are treated with a little bit more respect than porn magazine editors — but only a little.
Photo credit: Jimmy Lee Wirt.