SAN DIEGO (CN) – A judge in San Diego vindicated 22 Jane Does on Thursday by awarding them nearly $13 million in damages over the rights to videos they’d sought from adult film purveyor GirlsDoPorn following a monthslong civil fraud trial that garnered international attention.
In reality, GirlsDoPorn never revealed the name of the website the videos were being produced for and several in the company were in on the scheme: owner Michael Pratt, videographer Matthew Wolfe, actor Andre Garcia and administrative assistant Valorie Moser.
During the fraud trial, the defendants uploaded a new video to the GirlsDoPorn website. Jane Doe “A” testified she wasn’t told about the lawsuit when she shot the video this past August – even though the trial had been underway for nearly a month when the video was released.
San Diego Superior Court Judge Kevin Enright found clear and convincing evidence the defendants engaged in malice, oppression or fraud in a 187-page proposed statement of decision, awarding $9.475 million in compensatory damages and $3.3 million in punitive damages. The punitive award amounts to $150,000 for each of the women.
“Defendants’ tactics have caused the videos to become common knowledge in plaintiffs’ communities and among their relations and peers – the very thing that plaintiffs feared and that defendants expressly assured them would not happen,” Enright wrote. “As a result, plaintiffs have suffered and continue to suffer far-reaching and often tragic consequences.”
“Collectively, they have experienced severe harassment, emotional and psychological trauma, and reputational harm; lost jobs, academic and professional opportunities, and family and personal relationships; and had their lives derailed and uprooted,” the ruling continues. “They have become pariahs in their communities. Several plaintiffs have become suicidal.”
The women’s attorney Ed Chapin said “the convincing force of our evidence” swayed the judge to find for his clients.
“Our clients were real and they had similar stories because the defendants told the same lies to everyone,” Chapin said in an interview. “I sat and talked to a lot of women. My heart just wept for them, how their lives have been impacted by this, and how they were sucked into doing what they did. The attitude these defendants expressed when the women complained, the scheme to shut them up, was despicable.”
The defendants have 15 days to file an objection to the proposed order. GirlsDoPorn’s attorneys Daniel Kaplan and Aaron Sadock indicated they will “most likely” do so.
“At this point our clients are focused on defending themselves against the criminal charges in federal court in San Diego. The tentative ruling does not affect the criminal case,” the attorneys said in a statement. “The government’s burden of proof in the criminal case is ‘beyond a reasonable doubt,’ which is much higher standard than in this civil lawsuit where the burden of proof is a mere preponderance of the evidence. The findings of fact in the civil case do not carry over to the criminal case where the government will have to prove the facts under a much more stringent standard.”
Enright also ordered the defendants to “affirmatively disclose in bold and centered at the top of the first page the following language: ‘The pornographic video subject to this agreement will be placed on the internet, on girlsdoporn.com, or on free and public pornography websites.'” Any agreement must be sent to prospective models five days in advance of video shoots.
In his proposed decision, Enright walked through the tactics employed by GirlsDoPorn to get college-age women to appear in its videos.
“Defendants deliberately used deceptive advertisements and websites to mislead women about the nature of the work; defendants aimed to cast a wider net to attract a certain type of applicant-women who would not intentionally respond to a solicitation to appear in a pornographic video,” Enright wrote. “This is consistent with defendants’ depiction of GDP models as making a one-time-only stint into pornography.”
According to trial testimony, to convince women skeptical of appearing in the flicks to follow through, GirlsDoPorn hired reference women – some of whom who had appeared in its videos – to text prospective models and quell any concerns they had about the videos being leaked online.
As for the 8-page contracts models signed minutes before shooting videos – often after being plied with alcohol and marijuana – Enright found a reference at the bottom of the second page to “online purposes” was not an appropriate disclosure the videos were made to be posted online.
“Defendants have repeatedly professed otherwise and bury this ‘disclosure’ in a lengthy legalistic document that models are not permitted to read and digest,” Enright wrote. “The import of the section is a restriction on the model’s outside activities, not a representation regarding defendants’ use of the videos.”
Enright found all contracts signed by the plaintiffs unenforceable and void. He also found the plaintiffs hold all rights to their videos and ordered the defendants to remove the women’s images from the GirlsDoPorn website.
As for staged interviews of the models prior to shooting the porn flicks where the women were coached to act “flirty and perky” or risk not getting paid, Enright said those did not undermine the women’s fraud claims.
“It is not disputed that some plaintiffs were fully taken in by defendants’ ruse, were not frightened, and felt quite comfortable with the experience as a whole,” the judge wrote. “Video of these women cheerfully answering questions she believes no one will ever see does not necessarily undermine her fraud claim and in fact, shows how thoroughly she believed defendants.”
Within weeks of a shoot, the videos would be posted to GirlsDoPorn’s subscription-based websites with clips posted on some of the most trafficked websites in the world including PornHub.
Enright also cited evidence that GirlsDoPorn participated in “doxing” on website forums. Doxing is the internet-based practice of searching for and publishing private or identifying information about a person, typically with malicious intent. Links to the videos were also sent to friends and family members, including one woman who testified her personal information and a photo of her family from her mother’s Facebook page were posted to the PornWikiLeaks website.
“It is enough that defendants knew that plaintiffs’ names would be leaked, that the videos would be sent to many of the people they knew, and that they would be harassed,” Enright wrote. “The court has little doubt of defendants’ actual knowledge of these eventualities. Dozens of prior models complained to defendants about their names being leaked in connection with the videos and about being harassed as a result-the earliest in the record is dated July 1, 2013.”
During the trial, women testified about the fallout of the videos being released online, with some saying they lost jobs and relationships, dropped out of school, experienced depression, and attempted suicide.
More than one woman testified the defendants put furniture in front of the doors of the ritzy downtown San Diego hotel rooms where the videos were shot to prevent the Does from leaving.
Federal prosecutors filed criminal sex trafficking and child pornography charges against GirlsDoPorn in the midst of the civil trial, citing Courthouse News’ coverage of the fraud case in its indictment.
Wolfe and Garcia are currently in federal custody. Moser, videographer Teddy Gyi and reference woman Amberlyn Dee Nored have been released on bond.
Pratt is a fugitive believed to be in New Zealand, his home country.
Enright issued an arrest warrant for Pratt’s failure to appear in the civil trial. The child pornography charges he faces are subject to the extradition treaty between the United States and New Zealand.
A status conference in the criminal case is set for April 24.