Posted November 27th, 2019.
By Scott Graham
The GirlsDoPorn.com website is “a lucrative business built on lies” and “male domination of vulnerable young women,” a lawyer for 22 former adult film models said Monday as the clock wound down on a three-month-long bench trial.
Sanford Heisler Sharp partner Ed Chapin told San Diego Superior Court Judge Kevin Enright during closing argument that the women had been tricked into believing their videos would be released only overseas on DVD, but instead found them “blasted all over the internet.” He asked the judge to award emotional distress damages ranging from $450,000 to $2 million per plaintiff, plus about 10 times that amount in punitive damages.
Daniel Kaplan of Dan Kaplan Law said the women were adults who knowingly contracted away any control over the distribution of the videos. “They don’t get a pass because they’re young,” Kaplan said, criticizing Chapin’s characterization as “incredibly patronizing.” He said the plaintiffs won’t accept “the reality of what they did, which was accepting large amounts of cash for having sex on camera.”
Doe v. GirlsDoPorn.com has been closely watched and hard-fought, with millions of dollars potentially at stake. But it’s winding down as a federal criminal case is heating up. Six individuals connected with GirlsDoPorn have been charged with sex trafficking or conspiracy to commit sex trafficking.
Michael Pratt, the owner of the company that publishes the videos, is described as a fugitive. Operational consultant Matthew Wolfe and actor/recruiter Ruben Andre Garcia are in custody. Also charged and released on bond were former videographer Theodore Gyi, former administrative assistant Valorie Moser and reference model Amberlyn Clark.
Garcia has asserted his Fifth Amendment right not testify in the civil trial. Wolfe, Gyi, Moser and Clark testified at some length just before the indictment was handed down. All five have entered not guilty pleas in the criminal case.
The government says it will seek forfeiture of the proceeds, which it estimates at more than $17 million, upon conviction of the defendants.
The 22 women allege that the porn companies staged an elaborate scheme to mislead them into believing their videos, for which they were paid about $4,000, would be distributed only on DVDs, outside of the United States. Instead, they allege, their videos have been viewed tens of millions of times on GirlsDoPorn.com and on free sites such as Pornhub, and their names and other personal information have been published on Porn Wikileaks, a website that doxed adult film stars.
“This is a fraudulent scheme,” Chapin said. “It’s been honed by the use of fake modeling ads, fake websites, fake names,” and supported by “their paid shills”—women like Clark who were paid to provide false assurance that models would remain anonymous.
Without that guarantee, “they wouldn’t have had a business, and they wouldn’t have all of the money they made over the years,” Chapin said.
Once the models were flown into town, often with no money, Garcia, Wolfe or Gyi would spring contracts on them at the last minute and pressure them to sign quickly, Chapin said. Although one contract does grant “exclusive rights to model’s likeness for online purposes or for any other purpose,” that provision was “buried” after a page and a half of intentionally verbose legalese, he said.
“At best, these documents were incompetently drafted. At worst, they are intentionally deceptive,” Chapin said. “Either way I submit that they are not enforceable.”
The plaintiffs have been bullied, shamed, blackmailed, stalked and propositioned by strangers in public and at their places of employment, Chapin said. He alleged that Pratt, using a phony Facebook account, notified one plaintiff’s mother about her daughter’s video and another plaintiff’s sister and her employer. After Jane Doe No. 1 threatened to sue, the defendants sent her video “to her law school, to her professors, to her administrators and to her classmates,” he charged.
Pratt, Chapin said, is a loose cannon,“and these women have to live day to day with him at large, with their videos locked and loaded in his possession and him just waiting to extract revenge.”
The plaintiffs are seeking to recover the $1.5 million the parties have stipulated that their videos earned. Chapin also asked for a range of emotional distress damages from $450,000 up to $2 million for a few plaintiffs who’ve been driven to the brink of suicide. “We leave it in your sound discretion” to make that evaluation, Chapin told Enright.
He said the case justifies punitive damages at the high end of the allowable ratio to compensatory damages, which is about 10-to-1 under California law.
Kaplan maintained that no one connected with GirlsDoPorn disclosed the plaintiffs’ names or personal information. Rather, the plaintiffs are active on social media or have their own websites where their names and images can easily be discovered by third parties, he said.
“These women knowingly and willingly participated in pornography, knowing full well of the risk that they face of being disclosed,” he said. Pratt, Wolfe and Garcia “can’t be blamed for failing to map out for the women every ill effect that doing a pornographic film would have.”
Kaplan said the reason the plaintiffs are telling the same story is that Jane Doe No. 1, a law student at the time of filming, sent emails to other GirlsDoPorn models saying they could recover $500,000 by signing up for the lawsuit. The plaintiff team then encouraged them to say they were falsely told their videos would appear only on DVDs in Australia, Kaplan charged.
“So they found the 22 who were willing to lie,” Kaplan said. “They found the 22 who were willing to parrot the statement.”
If distribution had been the models’ true concern at the time of filming, “They could have said, ‘Show me in the contract where it says DVD. Show me where it says Australia,’” Kaplan said. “That would have been simple enough, but they didn’t do it.”
He ridiculed the notion that the provision Chapin cited was “buried” on page two of an eight-page contract. “Imagine what would happen if by simply asserting ‘I didn’t understand’ or ‘I didn’t read the contract,’ people could get out of those agreements. Commerce would come to a stop,” Kaplan said.
He said common sense dictates that pornography shot in recent years is distributed online. Virtually all of the plaintiffs acknowledged in their testimony that they’d watched porn online before filming, but few if any had ever seen it on a DVD.
Most also testified that they didn’t discuss their plans to participate in the film with others. “Their friend or their family or their loved one would have said, ‘This is a porn movie that will become public. If you are OK with that, go ahead,’” Kaplan said. “’If you are not OK with being a porn star, then don’t do it because the money is never going to be worth it.’”
As for damages, Kaplan said many of the plaintiffs’ social media pages depict them leading happy, public lives. One testified that she’s “living her dream.” And none of the plaintiffs submitted an examination by a psychiatrist or psychologist to support their claims of emotional distress. Chapin argued that’s not required under California law.
Kaplan said Pratt isn’t behind the fake Facebook account and there’s no evidence that he sent the Jane Doe No. 1 videos to her law school. “We don’t know who sent those videos,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that it happened, nobody is disputing that, but it wasn’t, as far as the evidence shows, the responsibility of any of the defendants.”
Enright had no questions for either party during closings, which will continue Tuesday. The judge has invited each side to submit a proposed statement of decision to the court by Dec. 10.