Lawyer in Nirvana album cover lawsuit mounting House race

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A Garden City lawyer who is suing the rock band Nirvana over an album cover alleged to be child pornography is taking steps to run for the Kansas House.

Robert Y. Lewis has appointed a treasurer to run for the House District 123 seat now held by Republican state Rep. John Wheeler. Lewis plans to run for the seat.

Robert Lewis

Wheeler, who has represented the district since 2017, said he has not decided whether he will run again next year. He emphasized he hasn’t ruled out seeking reelection.

Lewis, 63, described himself as a “bleeding-heart conservative” whose legal career has been focused on helping crime victims and representing them in civil actions or other legal proceedings seeking restitution from criminal defendants.

“I have a passion for representing and advocating for people or institutions who have been silenced or at least, I think, are victims in some fashion,” he said.

“As a state legislator, I would continue to use that as my passion or my principle to give voice to the people of Garden City and the people of Kansas,” he said

Late last month, Lewis gained national attention when he filed a lawsuit against Nirvana over the 1991 album cover for “Nevermind,” which depicts a baby underwater with his genitalia exposed.

Lewis is representing Spencer Elden, who is the subject of the picture that was taken when he was 4 months old in a pool at the Pasadena Aquatic Center in California.

The grunge band’s album rocketed to No. 1 on Billboard and went platinum, selling more than 30 million copies.

“Defendants knowingly produced, possessed, and advertised commercial child pornography depicting Spencer, and they knowingly received value in exchange for doing so,” the lawsuit says.

Here is an edited picture of the photo used for the cover of the Nirvana album, “Nevermind” that is now the subect of a federal pornography lawsuit.

“Defendants reproduced child pornography depicting Spencer knowing and intending that it would be distributed internationally and that they would receive value from such widespread worldwide distribution,” the lawsuit says.

The litigation goes into great detail into how the album cover was made, arguing that it was designed to “trigger a visceral sexual response from the viewer…”

It accuses Cobain, the late front man for the group, of choosing the image “depicting Spencer — like a sex worker — grabbing for a dollar bill that is positioned dangling from a fishhook in front of his nude body with his penis explicitly displayed.”

News of the litigation has circled the world in recent weeks. Defendants in the lawsuit include Courtney Love, the executor of Cobain’s estate, as well as the photographer and the album’s art director.

A Garden City native, Lewis is a graduate of Grinnell College in Iowa and earned his law degree from Stanford.

After law school he clerked for the Harlington Wood Jr. on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago.

A former federal prosecutor, Lewis now works remotely in Kansas for the New York-based Marsh Law firm, where his practice is centered on representing survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

He is now lead counsel in a federal case in in North Carolina on behalf of five boys suing the Army for the repeated sexual molestation at the hands of a teacher at an Army school.

Lewis said he moved out of Kansas to go to college and returned to the state four or fives years ago to practice law.

He is admitted to practice law in New York, California and Kansas.

House District 123 covers part of Finney County in western Kansas.

Its population didn’t change significantly during the last decade, suggesting that it may not change substantially during redistricting.

The district now has a population of 23,832, about 1.4% above the targeted popultion of 23,503.

The district went for President Trump last year with 56% of the vote and for Republican U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall with 53% of the vote.

Former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach barely won the district in the 2018 governor’s race, taking 42% to 39% of the vote for Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly.

Independent gubernatorial candidate Greg Orman won 17% of the vote here in 2018.

Wheeler was first elected in 2016 with 84% of the vote and was reelected in 2018 when he defeated a Democrat with 62% of the vote.

He was unopposed in 2020.