A class action filed in federal court in Los Angeles on Thursday claims Venice-based Snapchat Inc. exposes minors to sexually explicit material without providing proper parental controls.

The suit, filed by downtown’s Geragos & Geragos on behalf of a 14-year-old John Doe plaintiff and 150 million other Snapchat users, alleges the company’s service violates the Communications Decency Act.

“Snapchat is currently engaged in an insidious pattern and practice of intentionally exposing minors to harmful, offensive, prurient, and sexually offensive content, without warning minors or their parents that they would be exposed to such explicit content,” the complaint reads.

Partner Mark Geragos himself said he was “shocked” to learn about the lack of parental controls and warnings about the app’s explicit content.

“It’s shocking to me that this is something that actually occurs,” he said. “I’m shocked that they would allow this to happen, and I’m shocked that they wouldn’t know there’s a $50,000 penalty per occurrence.”

Geragos’ liability theory is tied to the company’s Snapchat Discover feature, which publishes content from third parties such as Vice Media and BuzzFeed. The suit maintains that Snapchat “exercises significant control, and in some cases complete control” over this content and is not just a publishing platform.

Content named in the lawsuit as objectionable includes articles entitled “10 Things He Thinks When He Can’t Make You Orgasm” and “People Tell Us Their Weirdest Stoner Snacks.”

In a statement, Snapchat said it was still waiting to review a copy of the complaint, but offered an apology to those offended by any of the content put out by its partners. The company also disagreed with the characterization it exercised any, let alone complete, control over the published material.

“We haven’t been served with a complaint in this lawsuit, but we are sorry if people were offended,” the statement reads. “Our Discover partners have editorial independence, which is something that we support.”

The suit’s theory of liability could hinge on whether these partners are ultimately considered independent or not. The Communications Decency Act has been curtailed on constitutional grounds to protect digital publishing platforms from liability for what users post.

Court Appointed

Gov. Jerry Brown has appointed seven new judges to the Los Angeles Superior Court bench, including Dean Hansell, a partner in Hogan Lovells’ downtown office.

Hansell, who will be sworn in on Aug. 15, said he was thrilled to be transitioning to a position as a full-time public servant.

“I’ve enjoyed the rigor of private practice and having great clients and great colleagues, but I’m under no pretense that this is public service in the true meaning of the word,” Hansell said.

And that idea of public service has always appealed to Hansell, who is 64. After earning his undergraduate degree from Denison University in Granville, Ohio, he had a brief career working as a park ranger for the Bureau of Land Management in Oregon. In fact, around the same time he was admitted to law school at Northwestern University, he was offered a full-time position as a ranger. Split between the two choices, he called his mother.

“And that’s how I gave up a very promising career as a park ranger,” he said, laughing.

Hansell’s legal career turned out alright, however. He’s spent the majority of it defending corporate clients such as El Segundo’s Big 5 Corp. against consumer class actions and in other complex civil matters, although he also spent time as an assistant attorney general in Illinois and served on the Los Angeles Police Commission.

Despite his distinguished career, Hansell said he was still floored when he got the call from Joshua Groban, the governor’s judicial appointment adviser, telling him he had been tapped for a seat on the bench.

“After I hung up with (Groban), I called my partner and then I called my brother to tell them,” Hansell said. “And then I had to take a walk because I couldn’t concentrate on anything.”

Brown’s other appointees to the court are: Lisa Jaskol, 56, a directing attorney at Public Counsel in Koreatown; David Hizami, 49, a deputy public defender in the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office; Andrea Davalos, 44, a deputy Los Angeles district attorney; Andrew Kim, 42, also a deputy district attorney; LaRonda McCoy, 55, a head deputy at the Los Angeles County Alternate Public Defender’s Office; and William Sadler, 52, a commissioner at the Los Angeles County Superior Court.

Staff reporter Henry Meier can be reached at hmeier@labusinessjournal.com or (323) 549-5225, ext. 221.

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