S.C. blocked from filing charges against Craigslist executives

By Meg Kinnard
Associated Press / May 23, 2009
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COLUMBIA, S.C. - A federal judge blocked South Carolina's attorney general yesterday from making any move to prosecute Craigslist executives for ads that lead to prostitution arrests while the company pursues its lawsuit against the state.

The order from US District Judge Weston Houck stems from an agreement between Attorney General Henry McMaster and Craigslist. It requires McMaster "to refrain from initiating or pursuing any prosecution against Craigslist or its officers" regarding content posted on the site.

McMaster spokesman Mark Plowden called Houck's order standard for such cases.

"This is a very routine legal procedure that allows the parties time to prepare for a hearing," he said.

A spokeswoman for Craigslist did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

This week, CEO Jim Buckmaster filed a federal lawsuit against the prosecutor after McMaster threatened to go after the Internet advertising company for allegedly aiding and abetting prostitution if the site leads to a prostitution case in South Carolina.

In his filing, Buckmaster said McMaster's threat violates the constitutional rights of company executives.

On May 5, the attorney general called on Buckmaster to remove ads related to prostitution and pornography from its South Carolina sites, giving the San Francisco-based company 10 days to comply or face possible charges.

Craigslist subsequently pledged to eliminate its "erotic services" category and screen submissions to a new "adult services" section before posting them.

When the deadline expired May 15, McMaster said he still intended to charge Craigslist executives with aiding and abetting prostitution if an ad on the website leads to a prostitution case in South Carolina.

McMaster has said his office has continued to investigate the ads in the new "adult services" section, but no charges have been brought. After demanding an apology from McMaster for targeting his company, Buckmaster sued the prosecutor.

But McMaster insists he has gone after Craigslist at the behest of local law officers who say it's the number one marketplace for adverting sex services.

No hearing dates have been set.