Judge Rejects Pimping Charges Against Backpage Officials

Nov 16, 2016 3:53 PM PST

UPDATE (6 p.m. PST): According to legal newspaper The Recorder, the judge has now said he won't dismiss the pimping charges just yet and would like more briefings from both sides before deciding whether to make the tentative ruling final.

SACRAMENTO — A judge on Wednesday tossed criminal pimping charges against the chief executive and controlling shareholders of Backpage.com.

In his tentative ruling, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Bowman said that Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act shielded defendants because they could not be prosecuted for content posted by third parties.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris last month brought charges against Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer, alongside shareholders Michael Lacey and James Larkin.

Harris’ office said they found numerous instances in which Backpage received fees from ads for escorts under the age of 18. Those minors lived in Los Angeles, Sacramento and Santa Clara counties, the complaint said.

Harris said that undercover agents responded to ads and met women and girls who described how they used the website to find Johns.

Ferrer separately was accused of taking content posted by Backpage customers and publishing it also on related websites, including BigCity.com and EvilEmpire.com.  

Backpage defendants argued at court that the ads at the center of the pimping charges were posted by third parties and that the state offered no evidence that the defendants knew ads placed by escort services were solicitations for sex.

"Congress has spoken on this matter and it is for Congress, not this court, to revisit," Bowman wrote.

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