In a blistering letter, statement and a legal motion for dismissal, attorneys representing Backpage.com on Wednesday accused California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris of knowingly violating the law by charging Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer and two other men in connection with ads on the classified site.
The material noted that Harris signed a letter three years ago urging Congress to change Section 320 of the Communications Decency Act, because it specifically barred prosecution of such cases.
“On the day she authorized the complaint for our arrest in this case, Kamala Harris knew she had no legal authority to bring a prosecution, because she had previously said so herself,” one of the documents said.
Harris filed sex charges earlier this month against Ferrer, Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin, accusing Ferrer of pimping because of ads appearing on Craigslist. Ferrer was arrested in Houston and held in jail for almost a week; Lacey and Larkin turned themselves in and were held for four days. All were eventually released on bail pending a hearing on Nov. 16 on the “demurrer” motion, or move for dismissal of all charges.
“The State should dismiss the complaint and all charges against Messrs. Ferrer, Lacey and Larkin,” said a letter to Harris from attorney James G. Grant of Washington, D.C., law firm Davis Wright Tremaine.
“The State has already burdened and infringed the rights of these gentlemen by arresting and incarcerating them. … The State has further infringed their rights and those of Backpage.com and its users by executive broad search warrants and seizing computers, business records and communications of Backpage.com, apparently without informing judges who issued the warrants of your admission over three years ago that your office has no authority to bring this case.”
In a statement, Lacey and Larkin noted they received $4 million in a legal settlement with Maricopa County (Ariz.) Sheriff Joe Arpaio in an unrelated case, and said the Harris case made them “the first American journalists to claim the rueful distinction of having been jailed both for editorials we wrote and advertising we published.”
The documents noted that the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of a case that Backpage won against Cook County (Illinois) Sheriff Thomas J. Dart, in which the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rebuked Dart for violating the First Amendment and for lying in taking actions against Backpage.
“A public official who tries to shut down an avenue of expression of ideas and opinions through actual or threatened imposition of government power or sanction is violating the First Amendment,” the court ruled in the Dart case.
Larkin and Lacey are listed in the charges as owners of Backpage; they are named as “former owners” in the documents.