Monica Jones, a Phoenix transgender woman found guilty in April for manifesting prostitution, is challenging her conviction and the constitutionality of the ordinance that brought her to court.
Jones asked the Arizona Supreme Court to reverse her conviction on Tuesday and she has both legal and celebrity muscle in her corner.
Laverne Cox, an LGBT-rights advocate who has gained fame playing a transgender inmate on “Orange Is The New Black,” will join Jones’ legal team including attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT and AIDS project in supporting Jones’ appeal of the ordinance, according to an ACLU statement.
Jones was arrested under a Phoenix ordinance for manifesting prostitution in a prostitution sting conducted by police last year.
To violate Phoenix’s manifestation-of-prostitution ordinance, a person must have attempted to engage a passer-by in conversation or stop cars by waving at them, inquired whether someone is a police officer or requested that someone touch his or her genitals.
Jones’ attorney, Jean-Jacques “J” Cabou of Perkins Coie LLP, said the ordinance undermined various portions of the First Amendment.
Legal director Dan Pochoda said at the time that courts in other states have vacated similar statutes.
Assistant City Prosecutor Gary Shupe said the ordinance contains an element of intent.
In the April trial, the municipal judge’s decision hinged on the accounts of two witnesses: Jones and the undercover Phoenix Police officer. Their stories diverged on several factors, including who initiated the ride and whether Jones instigated sexual contact.
Jones’ attorneys say the ordinance also relies too much on the assumptions of the individual officer. In Jones case, attorneys noted, the undercover officer described her outfit as a “black, tight-fitting dress” and repeatedly referred to Jones as a man in his written report.
Phoenix Municipal Judge Hercules Dellas said his guilty verdict was based the credibility of the witnesses, and he said Jones’ prior prostitution conviction lent motive to want to avoid a 30-day jail sentence.
Jones’ attorneys on Tuesday filed both an amicus brief against the ordinance, as well as a separate appeal that argued there was insufficient evidence to support the conviction and alleged several errors on the part of the trial court.
Jones, an activist for sex-worker rights and the LGBT community, said in an interview shortly after her conviction that the ordinance unfairly targets women, particularly women of color, transgender women and those in poverty.
The ACLU of Arizona on Monday announced that Jones planned to file her appeal on Tuesday and would be joined by Cox, best known for her role on the Netflix series based in a women’s prison.
Cox, also a transgender woman of color and advocate for the LGBT community, has publicly spoken on Jones’ behalf before. At the 25th annual GLAAD Awards in April, Cox called attention to Jones’ plight.
“Basically means that as a trans woman of color walking in a certain neighborhood, you can be arrested for prostitution,” Cox said, according to glaad.org. “There is so much work that needs to get done to make sure that never happens again.”