Sirkin to Argue ESPLER's Appeal Seeking to Lift Prostitution Statute

Sirkin to Argue ESPLER's Appeal Seeking to Lift Prostitution Statute
Rhett Pardon

SAN FRANCISCO — Louis Sirkin, the prominent adult entertainment lawyer, will stand up next week before a panel of judges at the 9th U.S. Circuit of Appeal in San Francisco to argue for the legalization of prostitution in the state of California.

Sirkin is well known to many in the adult entertainment industry as a staunch defender of the business, representing Hustler’s Larry Flynt when he attempted to open a shop in Ohio and successfully challenging the constitutionality of the Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996.

His first prominent victory was defending the director of the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, who was charged on obscenity counts after exhibiting photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe. And he also defended obscenity cases against Extreme Associates' Rob Black and Lizzie Borden, as well as producer Max Hardcore.

On Thursday, Oct. 19, Sirkin will be advocating against the criminalization of sex work in the long-running case, ESPLER Project v. Gascon, before the 9th Circuit.

“My whole legal career has focused on free speech and privacy,” Sirkin said. “And this case is a natural extension of that work. In Lawrence v. Texas, the Supreme Court made it clear that the government could not use morality as a basis for regulating private consensual sexual activity.”

Lawrence v. Texas was a 2003 U.S. Supreme Court landmark decision that held that intimate consensual sexual conduct was protected by the 14th Amendment.

Two years ago, ESPLER Project — known formally as the Erotic Service Providers Legal, Education and Research Project — filed a complaint at U.S. federal court claiming that the state’s anti-prostitution statute known as 647(b) of the California Penal Code, unfairly deprives adults the right to private consensual activity, criminalizes the discussion of such activity and unconstitutionally places prohibitions on individuals’ right to freely associate.

Earlier this year, Sirkin and another industry attorney, D. Gill Sperlein, asked the appeals panel to toss a lower court's judgment, remand the case to the lower court and declare the anti-prostitution law unconstitutionality. In the appeal, ESPLER Project also is seeking a permanent injunction.

The appeal is based on a decision last year by a federal judge dismissed the group's suit against California's attorney general and four district attorneys across the state.

At the 9th Circuit, each side will be allotted 20 minutes to make its case. 

The case is supported by amicus briefs from over 30 civil rights and LGBTQ organizations, including the ACLU, the First Amendment Lawyers Association, the Free Speech Coalition, Transgender Law Center and the Woodhull Freedom Foundation. 

“A long list of international organizations, including Amnesty International, the World Health Organization, the Lancet, Human Rights Watch and the UN Global Commission on HIV and the Law, that have called for the decriminalization of sex work,” said Maxine Doogan, president of ESPLER Project.

“They like us recognize that anti-prostitution laws criminalize the private lives of consenting adults, impact the human rights of sex workers and their clients, and have very adverse effects on public health and safety. We have the right attorney to argue our case.”

Another ESPLER Project organizer, Claire Alwyne, said that, “it’s taken a long time to get here — and we are so grateful to all our supporters and allies who made it possible. We look forward to our day in court — and another step towards the end of the repressive war on sex.”

ESPLER Project's appeal will be heard before 9th Circuit judges on Thursday, Oct. 19, at 9 a.m. Oral arguments will take place in Room 307 at the James R. Browning Courthouse, 95 7th St., San Francisco, CA 94103. ESPLER Project officials are planning a press conference after oral arguments over the legal battle, which has been primarily funded by small individual donations from supporters and allies through crowdfunding sites such as Crowdrise

Pictured: Louis Sirkin

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