The ruling won’t be final until Dec. 9, but a judge in California today [Wednesday] said he plans to throw out pimping and other sex-related charges against Carl Ferrer, the owner of Backpage.com, and two of his associates.
In a seven-page ruling that was published tentatively, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Bowman said the charges against Ferrer, Michael Lacey and James Larkin ware barred by the federal Communications Decency Act, which protects websites from liability for material posted by others.
“Congress has spoken on this matter and it is for Congress, not this court, to revisit,” Bowman wrote, in a sentence emphasized with bold type. “The victimization [of possible prostitutes by pimps] resulted from the third-party’s placement of the ad, not because [of] Backpage profiting from the ad placement.”
Bowman gave the state attorney general’s office, which originally filed the charges against the three Backpage associates, more time to file additional briefs. However, he said the court could not accept the charges.
Backpage has maintained all along that the charges were a political gambit by Kamala D. Harris, the California Attorney General, who was running for the U.S. Senate. She was elected last week.
Within hours of the judge’s tentative ruling, a Libertarian website called for prosecution of Harris and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who participated in the arrest of Ferrer. “There’s no avoiding the conclusion that [Harris] knowingly wasted taxpayer money on an obviously bogus prosecution,” Thomas L. Knapp of the Garrison Center site wrote. “The U.S. Department of Justice … should take notice of this case and make an example of Harris. It’s time to bring an end to the era of malicious prosecution for political profit.”
In an analysis last week, we posited that “eventually, the charges will be dismissed. Meantime, Ferrer, Larkin and Lacey have all spent time in jail; have spent and will spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on legal fees,” while “publishers everywhere have to be concerned” about the prosecution because of the implications for publishers’ rights.