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Protection attorneys say 1st Modification protected adverts on Backpage

FILE – On this Jan. 10, 2017 file picture former Backpage.com house owners, James Larkin, left, and Michael Lacey wait on Capitol Hill in Washington, to look at a congressional listening to analyzing the labeled web site. Larkin and Lacey are on trial in Arizona on federal prices of facilitating prostitution and cash laundering in what authorities say was a scheme to knowingly run adverts for sexual companies. In opening statements on Wednesday Sept, 8, 2021, their attorneys mentioned the location ran legally allowable adverts for escort companies, however didn’t publish adverts for intercourse. (AP Photograph/Cliff Owen, File)

PHOENIX (AP) — Legal professionals defending the founders of the labeled web site Backpage.com in opposition to allegations they knowingly ran adverts for prostitution informed jurors Wednesday that the grownup service adverts revealed by their shoppers have been controversial however finally protected by the First Modification.

Attorneys for Michael Lacey and James Larkin mentioned in opening statements at their trial that the location ran legally allowable adverts for escort companies, however didn’t publish adverts for intercourse. They are saying the location beefed up its employees and strategies for recognizing unlawful adverts, helped authorities in investigating sexual trafficking instances and earned compliments from regulation enforcement for his or her help.

“Backpage was doing all the pieces they might to assist the police,” mentioned Paul Cambria, one of many attorneys representing Lacey.

Final week, a prosecutor informed jurors that almost all of the location’s income got here from prostitution adverts however the founders and operators of Backpage tried to hide it. The prosecutor mentioned the location employed content material moderators whose job was to not take away prostitution adverts however to edit them so that they weren’t so blatant. The prosecutor additionally mentioned the web site developed a partnership with a web site the place prospects wrote critiques of prostitutes, which drove vital site visitors to Backpage.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Choose Susan Brnovich denied a request for a mistrial made by protection attorneys, who argued a prosecutor’s repeated references to intercourse trafficking throughout opening statements have been inflammatory.

Whereas prosecutors say the location revealed many adverts that depicted youngsters who have been victims of intercourse trafficking, nobody within the federal case in Arizona is charged with intercourse trafficking or youngster intercourse trafficking.

In all, six former Backpage operators have pleaded not responsible to prices of facilitating prostitution. Of the six, Lacey, Larkin and two others have pleaded not responsible to cash laundering prices.

The positioning’s advertising and marketing director has already pleaded responsible to conspiring to facilitate prostitution and acknowledged he participated in a scheme to present free adverts to prostitutes to win over their enterprise. Moreover, the CEO of the corporate when the federal government shut the location down, Carl Ferrer, pleaded responsible to a separate federal conspiracy case in Arizona and to state cash laundering prices in California.

Lacey and Larkin based the Phoenix New Instances, held possession pursuits in different weeklies similar to The Village Voice and finally bought their newspapers in 2013. However they held onto Backpage, which authorities say generated $500 million in prostitution-related income from its inception in 2004 till April 2018 when it was shut down by the federal government.

The positioning’s operators are accused of giving free adverts to prostitutes and cultivating preparations with others who labored within the intercourse commerce to get them to put up adverts with the corporate.

Thomas Bienert, an legal professional defending Larkin, learn aloud to jurors compliments that regulation enforcement businesses gave to Backpage for his or her cooperation in intercourse trafficking investigations.

Bienert additionally mentioned the operators of Backpage had purpose to suppose they have been working legally, saying judges who presided in now-dismissed lawsuits over Backpage adverts discovered that its grownup companies adverts have been protected by the First Modification.

Some individuals may not like the fabric revealed on Backpage however the adverts have been nonetheless authorized, Bienert mentioned. “Controversial doesn’t equal unlawful,” Bienert mentioned.

The trial is predicted to final two to a few months.