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Law students’ “revenge porn” bill would protect victim privacy

Jun 16, 2014

California last year became the second state in the union to make “revenge porn” a crime. But Pacific McGeorge School of Law students Marisa Shea and Christopher Wu felt more could be done.

“Being law students, we were intrigued at the idea that maybe victims could use the civil justice system to help get their lives back, instead of only the criminal justice system -- which can be intimidating to victims of such a personal crime,” Shea said.

So they drafted a law.

It breezed through the California Assembly on a 75-0 vote last month and will be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, June 17.

All law students study the law. At McGeorge, they make it.

The measure that Shea and Wu crafted would allow people whose intimate images have been distributed without their consent to use injunctive relief methods to get the images off the Internet – without having to use their real names.

The law students are part of a new Legislative & Public Policy Clinic at McGeorge, in which students find an issue, work with advocacy groups to propose a law, find a legislator to introduce it and lobby the proposal through the Capitol.

So far the students are five-for-five. Five teams of students initiated five bills. And all five made it to the Legislature and have advanced out of their house of origin.

“That’s a better record than some lobbyists,” said Chris Micheli, a McGeorge alumnus and member of the board of the Institute of Governmental Advocates, an association that represents professional lobbyists and lobbying firms in California’s Capitol.

“Legislators and their staffs have an expectation when people bring them an idea for a bill that they will help lobby the bill and move it through the Legislature. It’s a tremendous amount of work to get as far as they have. It’s fantastic,” Micheli said.

The four other student bills would make junk science in trial testimony grounds to overturn a conviction, allow childcare facilities to consider job applicants’ arrest records, require police to receive training in the signs of elder abuse, and create a statewide electronic archive for advance health care directives.

McGeorge law professor Rex Frazier launched the new legislation clinic as a way to put students in real-world situations in the Capitol, lobbying, networking and getting to know potential future employers. Frazier, a lobbyist himself, also coaches students in creating plans to build support and media coverage, anticipating the opposition and identifying sympathetic legislators.

Shea had just finished an internship with the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence when she and Wu got the assignment to draft a law.

The experience had made her aware that revenge porn victims, usually women, are often reluctant to ask a court to order that offensive material be taken off the Internet. Doing so means taking their plight public.

“Women don’t want their intimate images, their identifying information in the court record,” Shea said. “They don’t want anyone to learn that they have been a victim of this crime when they Google their names.”

Developing the measure required extensive research into existing law and extensive discussions with advocacy groups. Next came crafting language and convincing a legislator to introduce the law. And then the real work started.

Lobbying the measure through the Legislature meant drafting backgrounders for legislative staff, gathering support from sympathetic groups, orchestrating testimony, paying calls to members of key committees, and myriad other tasks entailed in turning an idea into a law.

“The students saw a way to help fight this reprehensible form of cyber retaliation,” said Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski of Fremont, who introduced the measure. “By creating a civil remedy and protecting the identities of victims, we are pushing back against these abusive actions. Through the clinic, the students are making an important contribution to public policy, rather than just having an abstract debate in a classroom.”

Shea said the ride has been exciting, if sometimes nerve-wracking.

“We were really fortunate, because McGeorge is so connected to the Capitol,” she said. “And the students in the legislative clinic have really worked together and supported and helped each other. It’s been an amazing experience.”

The other student-initiated bills are:

  • SB 1058, developed by law students Katherine Williams and Sosan Madanat, would make false or outdated testimony from an expert witness grounds to overturn a conviction and trigger a new trial. Sen. Mark Leno of San Francisco carried the bill.
  • AB 2632, championed by law students Kristina Brown and Aaron Briano, would require the state Department of Social Services to consider the arrest records of applicants for jobs in facilities that care for children or vulnerable adults. The Children’s Advocacy Institute provided policy support. Assemblyman Brian Maienschein of San Diego carried it.
  • AB 2623, developed by law students Jacob Smith and Vincent Wiraatmadja, would train police officers to recognize signs of elder abuse. It was inspired by an elderly woman, a client of McGeorge’s Elder Law Clinic, who called police 30 times about her abusive son. Assemblyman Richard Pan of Sacramento introduced the measure.
  • AB 2452, advanced by students Fielding Greaves, Vignesh Ganapathy and Matthew Klopsenstein, would create a statewide electronic archive for advance care directives. The California Medical Association and doctors at UC Davis Medical Center advised on it. Assemblyman Pan also introduced this one.

Read more about Pacific McGeorge School of Law's new Legislative and Public Policy Clinic:

Legislative clinic advance five new bills in California State Legislature

Legislative clinic Forensics Bill Approved by California Senate

About Pacific McGeorge

The University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law has grown into an internationally recognized leader in the field of legal education since its establishment nearly 90 years ago. Its location in Sacramento, the capital of California, has shaped its focus on public law, international law, and advocacy. The school is part of the University of the Pacific colleges and schools, which offer acclaimed professional degree programs in law, business, accounting, dentistry, pharmacy, speech-language pathology, and physical therapy -- as well as 80 undergraduate majors -- on three Northern California campuses. For more information, visit www.mcgeorge.edu.

Media contacts:

Claudia Morain | University of the Pacific | 209.479.9894 cell | 209.946.2313 office | cmorain@pacific.edu
Jeff Barbosa | Assemblyman Wieckowski's Office | 916.319.2025 | jeff.barbosa@asm.ca.gov