Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch — and, by extension, the county’s law enforcement community — has been drawn into a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the California law criminalizing prostitution.
Ravitch and three other Northern California district attorneys, as well as state Attorney General Kamala Harris, are named as defendants in the U.S. District Court case, which argues, in part, that the 14th Amendment protects individual liberty over private sexual conduct, regardless of whether it’s paid for.
The suit reflects recent case law and rulings that limit government interference in personal decisions involving sex, including the landmark 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas, in which the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated laws prohibiting sex between same-sex couples.
“This, as a general rule, should counsel against attempts by the State, or a court, to define the meaning of the relationship or to set its boundaries absent injury to a person or abuse of an institution the law protects,” the ruling states.
The more recent lawsuit was filed March 4 in San Francisco by the Erotic Service Provider Legal, Education & Research Project on behalf of four individual plaintiffs, including a Sonoma County resident and onetime sex worker who would like to continue her chosen profession but for the state’s legal prohibition, the suit says.
That’s how Ravitch came to be a defendant: She is the top law enforcement official in the county where that particular plaintiff, identified only as J.B., lives.
But Maxine Doogan, president of ESPLERP, a San Francisco-based coalition advocating on behalf of erotic workers, said Sonoma County is an appropriate party in the case, given what she called “egregious” conduct of law enforcement officers during undercover stings and “shame-based” treatment of criminal defendants in commercial sex-trade cases.