August 2013 Bar Bulletin
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August 2013 Bar Bulletin

U.S. Supreme Court To Hear Child-Porn Damages Case


Seattle Attorney Carol Hepburn at the Forefront

Seattle attorney Carol Hepburn is encouraged by the U.S. Supreme Court's decision last month to review a case involving restitution for the subjects of child pornography crimes. Hepburn is one of three attorneys nationally who have been in the forefront of prosecuting cases on behalf of the survivors of child pornography.

"Today's action is significant for young women with claims against the users and circulators of child pornography," Hepburn said. "We believe the Supreme Court will make the right decision and allow these individuals to receive the restitution they deserve for all they have suffered."

The case at issue arises from a criminal prosecution involving Texas resident Doyle Randall Paroline who, in January 2009, pleaded guilty to possessing multiple images of child pornography on his computer. A woman identified as "Amy" was among the girls shown in the images. Amy is seeking $3.3 million from Paroline to cover the cost of her lost income and psychological care. Amy is now in her early 20s and living in Pennsylvania.

Hepburn works with a team of attorneys that has prosecuted claims on behalf of both Amy and another woman, "Vicky," who was similarly harmed. As children, both Amy and Vicky were raped by men to produce child pornography. The resulting images are among the most widely disseminated photographs of child sexual abuse in the world. Hepburn and her colleagues have argued the two are entitled to restitution to be paid by the distributors and consumers of the pornographic images.

The Court's decision to review Amy's case is expected to result in a consistent approach to granting restitution to the subjects of child pornography crimes allowing them to recover out-of-pocket losses. As adults, these individuals are haunted by the crimes they endured. They have difficulty maintaining jobs and personal relationships, and need ongoing counseling and other supportive measures.

Lower courts have varied widely in interpreting the intent of Congress in 1994 when it passed the law providing for restitution for sexual exploitation of children. The law was passed to allow the children used in pornography to recover losses for the harm they endured and continue to endure, as long as the images are in circulation. To date, defendants have argued that restitution claims should not be honored at all or that anything over minimal amounts are disproportionate and unfair. Sometimes, victims have received orders awarding the full amount of their losses, sometimes nothing at all and, at other times, varying amounts in between.

Hepburn's team includes White Plains, N.Y. attorney James Marsh and former federal judge and University of Utah law professor Paul Cassell, who heads the Appellate Clinic at the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah. Hepburn represents Vicky. Marsh represents Amy, and Cassell represents both women for purposes of appeal.

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