A California judge announced his intention to drop Pimping charges against the former owners of the Phoenix New Times, and the CEO of Backpage.com, saying they are protected by Federal law and free speech.
The former owners, Michael Lacey and James Larkin, were each charged with counts of conspiracy to commit pimping, while Carl Ferrer, CEO of Backpage.com, was charged with counts of pimping a minor, as well as conspiracy to commit pimping.
The men are accused of running what has been called "the world's top online brothel", and the charges were brought by California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who was elected to the U.S. Senate during the recent general election there.
When Harris announced the charges in October, she said, "Backpage collects fees from users who post 'escort' ads, offering sex for money using coded language, and nearly nude photos. The California Department of Justice;s investigation found that many of the ads for prostitution services involved victims of sex trafficking, including children under the age of 19.
Sacramento Superior Court judge Michael Bowman argued the charges should be dropped because of the Federal Communications Decency Act, saying the law grants immunity to the operators of websites, for content that is posted by users.
Bowman said a Federal judge previously rejected a lawsuit filed by women who allege they were victims of sex trafficking through ads on Backpage.com, when they were as young as 15.
The judge is giving both sides more time before he issues a ruling by December 9.