New York attorney James Marsh pushed for a law Congress passed in 2006 that increased penalties for child pornography criminals and made it easier for victims to sue. Anderson filed the lawsuit under Masha’s Law, named after one of Marsh’s clients — a girl adopted from Russia by a man in the U.S. who turned out to be a pedophile.
But Marsh himself has only used civil litigation on a limited basis, choosing instead to put pressure on federal prosecutors to seek restitution for victims in criminal cases.
Marsh said there are two main reasons lawsuits in child porn cases can be difficult. First, attorneys must file separate lawsuits if they want to go after all the people accused of distributing or viewing the image. Those suits need to be filed wherever the accused live, and when the Internet is involved, that could be anywhere.
Second, if the lawsuit is being filed on behalf of a minor, special court procedures are needed to establish a guardian for the child. Doing that in hundreds of cases in multiple states can be costly and time-consuming.
Marsh said just filing lawsuits against the 1,000 people who victimized one of his clients would have cost an estimated $450,000, not to mention other costs such as seeking permission to lawyer in another state or hiring other attorneys to help out. Marsh was able to settle the case instead.
“We don’t have the structure in place in the federal courts to deal with this kind of issue and this kind of victimization,” he said.