Internet Law

Judge tosses pimping charges against Backpage.com CEO and two ex-shareholders


Backpage.com

A screen shot of Backpage.com.

Backpage.com CEO Carl Ferrer and two former controlling shareholders can’t be prosecuted for the website’s online ads for adult services, a California judge has ruled.

Judge Michael Bowman of Sacramento County dismissed pimping charges against the trio late Friday, report the Recorder (sub. req.), the Phoenix New Times and the Los Angeles Times.

Bowman there was no evidence that Ferrer and the two other defendants developed or encouraged development of the escort ads, and they were protected by the Communications Decency Act. The law is “both a foreclosure from prosecution and an affirmative defense at trial,” Bowman’s decision (PDF) said.

When the defendants were initially arrested in October, California Attorney General Kamala Harris had alleged that Backpage.com and its executives designed the website “to be the world’s top online brothel.” In a statement issued after Bowman’s ruling, Harris said the Communications Decency Act “was not meant to be a shield from criminal prosecution for perpetrators of online brothels.”

Bowman had tentatively ruled for Backpage.com in November. After that ruling, Harris filed a supplemental brief that said Backpage.com was not protected by the federal law because it exercised editorial control by choosing ads from two sister websites for republication.

Davis Wright Tremaine lawyer Robert Corn-Revere defended Backpage.com. “We’re just gratified that the court upheld the rule of law and dismissed this baseless prosecution,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “The government doesn’t get to ignore the demands of the First Amendment and … the Communications Decency Act.”


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