Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Big Law Firm Fights for Child Prostitute in Suit Against Her Pimps

New York Lawyer
February 26, 2008

By Evan Hill
The Recorder

Two attorneys from Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton used a novel approach to win a settlement for a client who probably wouldn't have put an Am Law 100 firm high on her list of likely knights in shining armor — a former child prostitute.

Robert Gerber, a partner and chair of the firm's pro bono committee, and Nathaniel Bruno, an associate, sued the girl's former pimps under §52.5 of the California Civil Code, established in 2005 with the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

To their knowledge, the statute had never before been used to win a monetary settlement for a child prostitute.

The bill created the crime of trafficking a person for forced labor or services and enabled victims of trafficking to bring civil actions.

The plaintiff, an 18-year-old woman, ran away from home three years ago and into the arms of a husband-wife pair of pimps whom she had met through her mother, also a prostitute, the complaint says.

The suit, brought in San Francisco Superior Court, accused the two of persuading the girl to have sex with them and teaching her the work of a prostitute: how to manipulate "johns," how much money to charge, and how to avoid being arrested. Her pimps charged $1,000 a night for her, according to the complaint.

Eventually, both the husband and wife and the girl were arrested, and she was put into the care of Los Angeles nonprofit Children of the Night. The president of the group had connections at Sheppard, Mullin, and the case was given to Gerber.

Though Bruno said he couldn't disclose the amount of the settlement, the complaint asked for an award "in amounts to be proven at trial, but in excess of $1 million."

He said he saw the case as a chance to "develop the law under this brand-new statute," and that Sheppard hopes to take on similar cases in the future.

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