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Last month, a California judge tentatively ruled that he would dismiss charges lodged by California’s attorney general against Backpage.com’s chief executive and two of its former owners.

The tables seemed to turn after a November 16 hearing in which Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Bowman decided against following his tentative ruling.

But on Friday, the judge issued a final order that virtually mirrored the earlier one: charges dismissed.
Backpage executives beat pimping charges, case dismissedCarl Ferrer
The CEO, Carl Ferrer, 55, was charged with pimping a minor, pimping, and conspiracy to commit pimping in connection to online advertisements posted on the online ads portal.
As we previously reported: California’s attorney general and US Senator-elect Kamala Harris alleged that advertisements amounted to solicitation of prostitution.

Ferrer and co-defendants were accused of making millions in profits off the backs of women and children forced into sexual servitude.

The charges were brought as Harris—who decried the site as “the world’s top online brothel”—was running for a US Senate seat, which she won in November.
Judge Bowman agreed with the defendants, including former owners Michael Lacey and James Larkin, that they were protected, among other things, by the Communications Decency Act, and hence they were not liable for third-party ads posted by others.
“Congress struck a balance in favor of free speech in that Congress did not wish to hold liable online publishers for the action of publishing third-party speech and thus provided for both a foreclosure from prosecution and an affirmative defense at trial.

Congress has spoken on this matter and it is for Congress, not this Court, to revisit,” the judge initially ruled.
Judge Bowman issued nearly the same language (PDF) in his latest ruling: “By enacting the CDA, Congress struck a balance in favor of free speech by providing for both a foreclosure from prosecution and an affirmative defense at trial for those who are deemed an internet service provider.”
A US Senate investigation into Dallas-based Backpage concluded that there was “substantial evidence that Backpage edits the content of some ads, including deleting words and images, before publication.

The record indicates that in some cases, these deletions likely served to remove evidence of the illegality of the underlying transaction.”

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