Merry Christmas: Kamala Harris Files Brand New Criminal Charges Against Backpage Execs After Last Ones Were Tossed Out

from the you-already-got-elected dept

Never let it be said that Kamala Harris gives up after being told her totally bogus legal crusade is totally bogus. She’s now filed brand new charges against the execs who run — despite having the very same lawsuit thrown out a few weeks ago. As you may recall, for years, Harris (and some other state Attorneys General) have been crusading against the classified website Backpage, because some of its users use it to post illegal prostitution ads. As has been explained dozens of times, the proper thing to do in those situations is to use that information to go after those actually breaking the law. Instead, Harris and others have whined about their desire to put Backpage execs in jail instead (which won’t actually stop any illegal activity — since it will just move to another site).

Let’s be crystal clear here: California Attorney General Kamala Harris (who in just a few weeks will become a US Senator) knows that she has no legal basis for arresting the execs behind Backpage. How do we know she knows this? Because three years ago she signed a letter whining about how she had no legal authority to arrest Backpage because it’s (rightly) protected by Section 230 of the CDA, saying that you can’t blame a site for the actions of its users. So it did seem weird, back in October, when Harris — along with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton — decided to arrest Backpage’s execs anyway, and charge them with “pimping.” As we note at the time, the criminal complaint against them was laughable and almost completely bogus. Not only was Backpage protected by CDA 230, but the actual investigation into Backpage undercut the case they were bringing, because it showed a willingness by Backpage to delete prostitution ads when brought to their attention by law enforcement, and to block those users from reposting.

So it was no surprise at all when the court quickly tossed all the charges against the execs, and told Harris to take it up with Congress… which, of course, is where she’ll be in a month. However, not content to just try to change the laws, Harris has chosen to file brand new charges against the three execs, Carl Ferrer, Michael Lacy, and James Larkin. The press release from Harris claims that the reason for the new charges is that she’s “uncovered new evidence” but that’s a load of hogwash.

The new charges still include bogus “pimping” charges, but now also have a bunch of “money laundering” charges as well. And that sounds scary, but once again the details look to be complete bullshit. Basically, the “money laundering” is that Backpage set up a separate operation to handle billing, after American Express (under pressure from grandstanding politicians) said it no longer wanted to work with Backpage. So, the lawsuit argues, Backpage set up a sort of shell corporation to accept AmEx charges, without it looking like they were coming from Backpage. But in order for it to be money laundering, it has to involve a situation where the money itself is coming from illegal activity, and over and over and over and over again the courts have said that Backpage’s activity is not illegal. In fact, that’s what a court told Harris just two weeks ago.

This is a frightening abuse of power to harass a company just because Harris doesn’t like how people use that company, and because she and her staff can’t be bothered to do the actual law enforcement work of using that information to go after the actual lawbreakers. It’s shameful.

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Comments on “Merry Christmas: Kamala Harris Files Brand New Criminal Charges Against Backpage Execs After Last Ones Were Tossed Out”

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Retsibsi (profile) says:

I work in local government and there have been times I’ve had to give legal advice to senior management that what they want to do is quite simply wrong and legally unfounded. Occasionally (*very* occasionally) I’ve had attempts to lean on me to change / modify my advice but held firm. There has never been an attempt to try and “punish” me (possibly because I’m bloody-minded and anyone who thought of trying it was warned it might not be a good idea) but just *who* is giving this woman implied approval of her action by such idiotic advice, and why aren’t they stopping matters from reaching this embarrassing stage? It’s not just the Attorney-General I regard as an embarrassment, it’s those supposedly giving her legal advice on the issue.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I understand that there’s a hierarchy, and specialization, and experience, and that ‘management’ doesn’t always know how things really work, and that there are nuances that only those working in niche areas can understand, but honestly… at some point can we skip the ‘who’s giving her advice?’ subtlety thing and just say that the people at the top (having ‘General’ in one’s title sorta suggests one is near the ‘top’) are simply powerful self-serving sociopaths who don’t give a damn about appearing to be rational?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I think the point is that management is supposed to know how things work, or at the very least ask those who do. If they don’t know then they should at the very least have some awareness of that lack. It begs the question as to why (or whether) someone has told her that this a fruitless / foolish exercise dangerously bordering on abuse of power (and I’m not saying on which side of the border). If they have advised her then why has she gone ahead anyway? If they haven’t advised her then why haven’t they done so?
At the end of the day the issue is one of accountability for the exercise of power. And if someone has failed to advise her when they’re made aware of her intention to (ab)use her delegated power then they also have take some degree of responsibility

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Agreed, but my point was just a cheap way of saying that our ‘leaders’ do know how things work (as do their underlings) and they do know that they aren’t abiding by the rules. They also know that the rest of us can see what they’re up to quite clearly, and are divided into two camps: those of us wasting our collective breath pointing out their abuses of power, and those of us cheering them on for being brash, out-of-the-closet sociopaths… because, er, ‘yeee-haw!’ or something.

(Still waiting for someone to explain exactly what it is that drives the ‘yeee-haw’ crowd, because it can’t be that people are simply that short-sighted and stupid. If they were, we’d wind up with someone like Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump as presi… oh.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Can the state bar pull her license?

I am seriously wondering how they are allowing her to be an active lawyer when she clearly is using her position to maliciously prosecute people when knowing that her case has no merit.

If I were these execs, I would counter-sue and force her to pay for all attorney fees since she knew from the start that her case was bogus.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Can the state bar pull her license?

While Kamala Harris is wrong, seriously wrong, and apparently trying to build political capital even after she won the next election, she would not be hurt by suing her for attorneys fees, the taxpayers would.

That is a shame the system needs to correct. The idea of ‘qualified immunity’ needs to be seriously reconsidered, or to go away entirely.

Wyrm (profile) says:

Re: Re: Can the state bar pull her license?

No, the concept of qualified immunity is good. The problem, as with many good things, is the abuse.

You want judges and attorneys to be free from the risk of counter-suits… most of the times. Otherwise, you open the door to lots of abuse from criminals who managed a win, by lack of evidence or by technicality.

What you want is a limit. A possibility to denounce abuses like this one, where an attorney is free to prosecute someone time and again, harassing and leading to huge costs for the defendant to no risk or expense for the attorney himself/herself.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Qualified immunity and the ‘average moron lawyer in a hurry’ standard.

To begin with, this post is about qualified immunity, and not a slur on lawyers, or average lawyers, or moron lawyers, or the average of moron lawyers, or the average of moron lawyers who might be in a hurry. However, in order to make my point about the former, we must at least quasi-define the latter.

There are a few assumptions to be made here. First up, a lawyer must know something about the law. They may have gone to a school for lawyers (a.k.a. Law School) or they may have home studied extensively (which I am not sure is allowed in this day and age). In either case, they must know something of the law. Second, they must have passed a bar exam. I don’t know (not being a lawyer) if there are hard bar exams and easy bar exams, but to be an actual lawyer, one must pass a bar exam. Third, not all lawyers are created equal. This may seem simplistic in itself, but some lawyers get to work for the big firms and some don’t. Some lawyers charge huge fees and others less huge fees. Even if we just score them on a bell curve (I sometimes wonder what the scoring would entail) there will be some at the right side of the curve and some at the left, with a preponderance of lawyers being someplace in the middle. Fourth, this essay is considering those lawyers on the left side of this curve, and more specifically, an average of those left side of the curve lawyers. They obviously know some law, or even law in general, or they would not have been able to pass that bar exam, easy or hard. Finally, when one thinks about things in the news, such as Kamala Harris’ handling of things she does not like or things she thinks her constituents might like her to not like, not everyone will dig deep into existing law or parse every Amendment of the Constitution to make sure that what Kamala Harris proposes actually makes sense in the real world, or the real world after the legal system gets done with parsing existing law and every Amendment of the Constitution, whether they uphold her shenanigans or not. We might consider those who do not parse everything as those being in a hurry. So, to wrap this up, a member of the average moron lawyer in a hurry is one who passed a bar, is considered an average of those lawyers who exist on the left side of the bell curve, and don’t parse everything when considering the news of the day.

On to qualified immunity. I think, in my heart of hearts, that the concept of qualified immunity was intended for good when it was originally conceived. As things go, the way it gets used today might be far from what was intended. Of those intentions, it is probably that government just did not want to pay for every error made by some office holder or other government employee. Unfortunately ,that the immunity existed made those officials comfortable in that they did not have to continually second guess themselves over every little thing to make sure no error occurred, and could get on with their day to day jobs. This is probably a good thing, though I do believe that it has managed to obviate that original intent and replaced it with some officials who are very officious. These officious officials seem to think that they can do no wrong. It has gotten to the point where they don’t even try to not make errors. Hell, they even give themselves permission to use their powers in the name of whatever predilection they subscribe to, whether it be political, moral, just plain greed, or some way to get around some obstacle.

To that end, I am proposing that we change the idea of qualified immunity to semi-qualified immunity. When we take the preponderance of action by officious government officials, we must include in that preponderance, inclusively, thought, word, and deed. No longer should we slap the public in the face with the notion that officious officials can get away with whatever they want, and when they are caught wrong, then pay for that officious officials wrongdoing by taxpayers paying their losses when they get sued. Hold those damnable officious officials accountable. Whether they are police, or mayors, or attorneys general, or congresscritter, or President, whether they are appointed, elected, or hired, there must be some accountability that does not come out of the taxpayers pocketbook, even figuratively or in some other backhanded way like building bridges to nowhere because it got added as a rider to some other bill.

Under my proposal, the standard for whether the error qualifies for semi-qualified immunity would be; would the average moron lawyer in a hurry think that the error was just an error or would that average moron lawyer in a hurry suspect that there might be some intent, in thought, word, or deed, underlying the perpetrators actions. If intent exists, hang the bastards out to dry and make them wholly responsible for their actions, whether it be making the aggrieved whole in some way, personally (not on the taxpayers dime) and/or placing them in prison, and not the country club type prisons set up to accommodate persons adjudged a friend of the adjudicators.

OK, my dream is over (or was it a nightmare). Have at it. Tell me how wrong I am, or better yet, tell me how to improve it. Either way, I hope you enjoyed it as much I did…damn it…I lost my We-Vibe vibrator…where is that little rascal…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Qualified immunity and the ‘average moron lawyer in a hurry’ standard.

Tell me how wrong I am


"It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!" -Upton Sinclair

The chief issue with prosecutors is that they are judged by the voters on how many convictions they secure. It matters not to the average "Joe Six Pack" if the charges bear some relation to fairness (let alone justice), only that "criminals" are put away – and for a long time. This is why you see calls for the death penalty, frequently with the addendum of "I ain’t paying to put them in a country club for the rest of their lives!" when, in fact, seeking the death penalty is more costly than simple prison.

"Joe Six Pack" sees their state as having put in an "Express Lane" to the death chamber, and sees it good. As the average voter cannot imagine a situation where they might be subject to the depredations of an over enthusiastic prosecution, it’s all good – until it isn’t, and then they squeal louder than a stuck pig.

The failure of imagination, empathy, or even simple fairness of the average voter is enough to make angles weep in frustration and devils dance in glee. I’ve in mind one case of a person prosecuted for check fraud, in the face of photographic evidence that the person passing the check wasn’t even the same race or sex as the defendant, and the defendant had reported their car stolen two months prior to the bad checks!

No Prosecutor that is elected will take a course that allows a future opponent to fling the charge of "Soft on crime!" at them. Nor is appointing a prosecutor the answer; those doing the appointing will use that as a cudgel to pursue their own agendas. The best answer I’ve come up with, and I don’t think it’s any too good, is to randomly select a prosecutor from all with a law license, to serve for 3 months.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Qualified immunity and the ‘average moron lawyer in a hurry’ standard.

  1. to the poster above this one, the recitation of the system was fair enough, EXCEPT it merely ALLUDED to corruption, in that a perverse prosecutor/judge/officer of the kourt might -quixotically- act against the THEORETICAL limits of their powers in order to further their own personal agenda…
    HOWEVER, the SYSTEMIC corruption of The System is such that the 1% have infiltrated it, built and re-built it, and control it, such that the REAL, major corruption in crimes against The Constitution and the People are ‘legalized’ and made non-crimes for the 1%, but still retaining a bite for the 99% who dare do the same as the 1%…
    The System is SO slanted against the 99% and tilted to the 1%, that it is difficult to maintain any semblance of probative (wait a second, “probative” ? ? ? SERIOUSLY, spel czech, probative you’re going to red-squiggle ? ? ? is this the stone-age version of spel czech ? ) truth-seeking, much less justice in such a system where the foregone conclusion being sought is that the 99% are scum and deserve jail, while the 1% are, um, angles (sic) and deserve, well, every-fucking-thing…
    2. as far as voters judging prosecutors for election based on number of convictions, etc… i would bet MOST (if not a yuuuge majority) of voters are similar to me: i could not name the local DA/prosecutors, unless by chance i happened to see a news report mentioning them the night before…
    MUCH LESS what his/her prosecution stats are, MUCH LESS compared to their ‘competition’…
    for the most part, these guys get elected based on their blather and bluster, part of which almost certainly includes their stats picked and chosen to suit their agenda, but mostly seems to be from a couple high-profile cases they highlight to ‘prove’ how X (tough on crime/fights the illegal immigrants/stops abortion/anti-gay/hates drugs/whatever) they are compared to their wimpy adversary…
    usually it is a game of one-upmanship: “My weak opponent only wants to sentence everyone for every crime to the death penalty; what a cop-out, what a nanny-stater. No, mein gut freunds, er, my fellow ‘merikans, we must not only apply the death penalty to the eee-vil perps, but their families and anyone within 3 degrees of separation to the vile monsters. They are all tainted ! ! !”
    similar to the judges, who get re-elected by 90-95% totals; and i bet 90-99% of the voters could not name ONE decision they either agreed with or disagreed with for that judge… (i know i can’t) maybe one out of a hundred judge ‘elections’ have some controversy ginned up over some case where a teacher forced the kids to read huckleberry finn, or something (now) non-PC, and so the opposition to the judge turns it into a political football, but that is relatively rare…
    99% of the time, people are on auto-pilot and just vote to retain them… since i don’t know anything about them, i assume they are all corrupt and always vote out all of The Bastards !… so far, i’m in the minority…
    3. minor point, ‘only’ (sigh) 3/5’s of the states have the death penalty, with some not really pursuing them, if not ‘boycotting’ them…
    interesting how it is apparently NOT cruel and unusual to subject convicts to death by weird, ineffective drug cocktails as long as nobody complains about it being cruel and unusual…
    if not perverse…
    4. the story of justice perverted in spite of evidence to the contrary is hardly news… what IS the ‘news’, is that it isn’t news…
    if a news story isn’t reported by the korporate-kontrolled mediawhores, then it isn’t really a story, now is it, citizen…
    end of story,
    end of problem…
    just where did you think this ‘fake news’ bullshit is heading ? ? ?
    in tech terms:
    no research, revelation, or reporting on s/w bugs allowed by ‘unauthorized’ sources (‘unauthorized’ meaning non-gummint controlled)
    therefore, as the REAL (non-fake) ‘news’ tells us:
    there are NO s/w bugs,
    there are NO security breaches,
    there were NO lost monies,
    there are NO problems,
    everything is fine,
    go about your daily lives,
    don’t look up…
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Can the state bar pull her license?

No, the concept of qualified immunity is good.

Then let’s apply it to everyone!

You want doctors to be free from the risk of counter-suits, lest they be afraid to treat patients.

You want engineers to be free from the risk of counter-suits, lest they be afraid to design bridges.

You want bus drivers to be free from the risk of counter-suits, lest they be afraid to drive the bus.

You want restaurants to be free from the risk of counter-suits, lest they be afraid to serve food.

Etc, etc, etc.. Everyone should be immune!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Can the state bar pull her license?

The problem is that people see exactly what she is doing, and they don’t care…

I am seriously wondering how they are cheering on her attempt to be a senator lawyer when she clearly is using her position to maliciously prosecute people when knowing that her case has no merit.

If I were these execs, I would throw her a campaign contribution (bribe) and wait for her to pay back all the favors, since she knew from the start that her case was bogus and only intended to draw more publicity to her campaign.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Can the state bar pull her license?

Whenever I saw her campaign ad posts on Facebook, I would take to the comments calling her out on the fraudulent charges. Usually the responses I got were along the lines of “how dare you speak poorly of a civil servant who devoted her life to blah blah blah”.

People really don’t care at all. It’s unfortunate that her opposition was a complete buffoon.

Almost Anonymous (profile) says:

Re: Can the state bar pull her license?

You don’t understand. She isn’t being malicious, because she really believes that these are bad hombres. With the strength and conviction of her belief, nothing can stand against her.

Also, I suspect this is a bit of “you can beat the rap but you can’t beat the ride.” Yeah, the charges might be bogus (but she really believes they are true!), but if people keep seeing the Backpage execs getting arrested, a lot of folks will make the reasonable assumption that the site conducts illegal activity, and will shy away from it for fear of being attached. Please remember that for a majority of folks, being arrested is the same as being convicted. The presumption of innocence is a quaint and faded notion.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

And the problem is most media will only report the charges.
They might mention the court threw them out as being bogus, but that isn’t as worthy of headlines.

She wants to storm into Congress riding on a tide of the ever popular stopping prostitution & human trafficking trope.

Someone needs to file a bar complaint, hopefully the Judges will to give it the extra ooomph it needs to make the system regulate itself.

She has used her position to interfere in a legal business multiple times, has been informed by courts shes not got a case, and keeps bringing it. This is for her getting soundbites not doing her job. Someone should sue her to make her return her salary & compensation for the last couple of years, as she spent much more time on a personal crusade than handling her job. She wasted tax payer funds on a vendetta that caused more problems than it allegedly was to cure. Violating the alleged ethics she is supposed to have should raise questions if she is qualified to handle the business of the country without using it as a bully pulpit to force the law to be what she wants, not what it is.

One might think she fears losing her ‘think of the children’ trope she’s been using to distract voters from her inability to do actual things.
When pot was legalized people predicted the end of the world… didn’t happen.
Perhaps it is time to ignore the victorian voices saying selling sex is wrong, and make it legal. Most prostitutes are well aware of what they are doing & consent to do it. Once you remove them from the crime drag net, it gets much easier to catch those forcing others into it… and they might give up as the legal option makes it harder to try and make a buck that way.
I’d rather have a house of ill-repute operating, than seeing tax dollars wasted trying to embarrass those involved in a consensual business arrangement.

Kamala Harris cares more about soundbites & headlines than actual people, and it is well past time we stop getting tangled up in the hype & demand more.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I’d rather have a house of ill-repute operating, than seeing tax dollars wasted trying to embarrass those involved in a consensual business arrangement.

Wait, there’s some sort of hyperdimensional-ouroboros thing going on in your statement… You’d rather have Congress working as usual than see money wasted trying to embarass Congress for working as it usually does?

Anonymous Coward says:

Rest assured, once in Congress she’s totally above the law.

Congressmen and Senators etc have raped, murdered, robbed, attacked, sexually assaulted and all completely untouched by the law.

The ONLY way this ends, is probably going to be via a massive uprising across the US once enough people get sick of people going into congress, making 10s of millions and not doing a single thing they were voted in to do.

Anonymous Coward says:

Ah hah! I just figured TechDirt out.

First, a few quotes from reader comments:

it can’t be that people are simply that short-sighted and stupid. If they were, we’d wind up with someone like Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump as presi…

The failure of imagination, empathy, or even simple fairness of the average voter is enough to make angles weep in frustration…

it is well past time we stop getting tangled up in the hype & demand more.

You new "above the law" senator… Meet your new landlord.

So, what’s my revelation? TechDirt is the Ark Ship B for those of us suffering from that most useless of traits, ‘pessemistic realism’. Although I’m sure that the rest of humanity will eventually be destroyed by a disease spread by dirty politicians who haven’t been properly disinfected, what I’m not sure about is the most important thing of all…

Who get the big bathtub – Mike or Tim C.?

bflat879 says:


It’s amazing what you’re willing to do with other people’s money. If she were a lawyer and this lawsuit was coming out of her expected fee, it wouldn’t be filed. That’s why we have all these state attorneys general filing lawsuits against Exxon/mobil, wanting to file against climate deniers, and this case, they’re just spending the state’s money. Must be sweet.

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