SC asks judge to drop Craigslist suit, says firm hasn’t proved he violated employees’ rights

By Meg Kinnard, AP
Wednesday, July 22, 2009

AG in SC asks judge to drop Craigslist lawsuit

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The South Carolina attorney general who has threatened to prosecute Craigslist for prostitution-related ads wants a federal judge to dismiss the company’s complaint against him, according to court papers filed this week.

“The conduct targeted by the Attorney General enjoys no constitutional protection,” Attorney General Henry McMaster said in federal court papers filed Tuesday.

McMaster says the San Francisco-based company had not proven that he violated employees’ constitutional rights by threatening to prosecute prostitution-related ads.

“Neither Plaintiff nor the users of its websites have a constitutionally protected right to post such advertisements,” McMaster wrote, “and if Plaintiff is as serious about stopping the use of its websites to facilitate illegal activities as it claims, it should have no problem removing known prostitution advertisements.”

In May, McMaster gave Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster a 10-day deadline to remove ads related to prostitution and pornography from its South Carolina Web sites or face possible charges.

The online advertising service then eliminated its “erotic services” category, pledging to screen submissions to a new “adult services” section before posting them. But McMaster said that wasn’t enough. He said he still intended to charge executives with aiding and abetting prostitution if an ad led to a South Carolina prostitution case.

After demanding an apology, Buckmaster sued McMaster saying that threats of prosecution had violated employees’ constitutional rights to free speech and personal liberties. The chief of the San Francisco-based company also questioned why his Web site, and not other outlets containing similar material, was targeted.

The Republican Attorney General, who plans to run for governor of South Carolina in 2010, said he went after Craigslist at the behest of local law officers who call it the No. 1 marketplace for adverting sex services.

Both sides later agreed that McMaster would not pursue criminal charges while the federal lawsuit moves forward. A spokeswoman for Craigslist did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

McMaster launched his inquiry in the wake of the arrest of a former Boston medical student charged with killing a masseuse he met on Craigslist. Philip Markoff has pleaded not guilty.

Since the dustup in South Carolina began, there have been several arrests in North Carolina concerning sex-related Craigslist ads. Last week, more than a dozen people were arrested at motels along Interstate 77 in North Carolina after authorities discovered sex advertisements on the Web site. And in June, a North Carolina man was charged with posing as a police officer and raping a South Carolina woman he met using Craigslist.

In Maryland, a man pleaded guilty to selling sex with several underage teenage girls through ads on Craigslist.

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