Judge Presiding Over Arizona Prosecution Of Backpage Denies Discovery Requests Targeting Her Husband, Who Happens To Be State Attorney General

from the i'm-sorry-but-wtaf dept

Here's one more horrifying postscript to the still-ongoing criminal prosecution(s) of Backpage's executives. Courts and attorneys general (including newly installed VP Kamala Harris) tried to run the company in on prostitution charges but often found their efforts rebuffed by courts who didn't see how hosting third-party ads was the same thing as aiding and abetting sex trafficking.

Prosecutions abounded. So did a cottage industry of pearl clutchers and hand wringers -- many of which were holding powerful offices in Washington DC. These people were convinced the only way to fight sex trafficking was to punch holes in Section 230. Despite being warned against doing so by none other than the DOJ, they went ahead and passed FOSTA. This anti-sex trafficking law has been used exactly once in a criminal case since its inception.

But here's the new thing, via Stephen Lemons writing for Front Page Confidential. The undercurrent of corruption behind the Backpage prosecutions continues to flow. It was never meant to be a fair fight. It was meant to make Backpage an example after other online services managed to shrug off misguided investigations and prosecutions attempting to turn hosts into criminal confederates.

One of the goals of government work -- especially as it pertains to checks and balances -- is to avoid any appearances of impropriety. But in Arizona, appearances appear to be unimportant. Impropriety is in the eye of the beholder. And if the beholder wields less power, too fucking bad. Here's how things are being handled in the government's attempt to prosecute Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin of Backpage.

Appearance? No, actual impropriety!

A game of legal ping pong has ensued in the Lacey/Larkin case, with U.S. District Court Judge Susan Brnovich shooting down a defense subpoena seeking the same docs from her husband, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, as a public records request from the defendants, now pending at the AG’s office.

On February 11, the judge ruled against the defense’s motion for a subpoena to her spouse’s office, requesting “all correspondence or records” discussing the defendants, their case and the defunct listings website at the center of it all, Backpage.com.

Welp.

The only judge who has yet to recuse herself from this case is married to the state Attorney General who has made comments concerning Backpage that might be relevant to the case. And yet, Judge Brnovich sees nothing wrong with presiding over it and denying discovery materials to the people attempting to defend themselves -- when that discovery involves her husband.

Since Judge Brnovich is unwilling to address the obvious implications of her decision to stay involved with this case, the defendants have asked the Ninth Circuit Appeals Court to step in. Hopefully a set of judges far more impartial than Judge Susan Brnovich appears to be will force the judge to step down and let someone else not married to the state Attorney General, who has publicly discussed the case, take the reins.

Until then, Backpage is at the mercy of a system that seems to willingly be ignoring the "checks and balances" ideals that make this country great, at least when respected.

Update: In the initial version of this post, we falsely claimed that state Attorney General Brnovich was prosecuting the case. It is actually a federal case, prosecuted by the DOJ. The subpoena just relates to statements made by the state Attorney General regarding Backpage. We regret the error.

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Filed Under: conflict of interest, evidence, foia, mark brnovich, section 230, susan brnovich
Companies: backpage


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 3 Mar 2021 @ 1:42am

    I'd call it shameful were they capable of feeling shame

    Faced with a case that her husband is prosecuting and she not only didn't recuse herself over the massive conflict of interest she's actively aiding him in his case.

    Oh yeah, she's not even pretending to give a damn about justice here and this gross abuse of power should see her not only booted from this case but every case as she's shown that she is absolutely unfit for the power and responsibility of the position.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That Anonymous Coward (profile), 3 Mar 2021 @ 3:40am

      Re: I'd call it shameful were they capable of feeling shame

      BUT SHE IS THINKING ABOUT THE CHILDREN!!!!!

      Her claims about there not being any conflict ring really hollow & if we had a functioning Justice system the DoJ would have gotten off of their asses to point out that even the appearance of impropriety is not allowed. It undermines the entire legal system when her husband is running using materials from this case to tout how awesome he is and his wife gets to decide how awesome that will be.

      One should really ask the DoJ why are we still doing these show-trials where the rule of law doesn't matter. Either we are a beacon of freedom & justice or we're just another shithole country who just pretends to go through the motions...
      Oh shit...
      We live in a nation where your rights stop 99.9 miles from the border...

      DOUBLEPLUS GOOD!
      We have always been at war with imaginary sex traffickers while actual children are dying under the care of the state.
      We must prevail against the evils of pornography while ignoring & covering up sexual abuse by our leaders.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2021 @ 4:36am

    Wow, a district court being run like some podunk whistle stop out in BFE collecting fines from out of state vehicles who did not notice the change in speed limit denoted by the sign hidden behind some large trees, bushes and assorted undergrowth.

    Does the bailiff keep one bullet in his shirt pocket?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2021 @ 5:18am

      Re:

      Nope, he keeps a fully loaded automatic. They don't have anyone with enough sense to restrict him to a single bullet in his pocket.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Thad (profile), 3 Mar 2021 @ 8:07am

    Huh -- I didn't know Lemons had left the Phoenix New Times.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    renato (profile), 3 Mar 2021 @ 8:18am

    The only judge who has yet to recuse herself from this case is married to the person prosecuting it. And yet, Judge Brnovich sees nothing wrong with presiding over it and denying discovery materials to the people attempting to defend themselves from AG Brnovich's attempt to turn Backpage's execs into pimps.

    Aren't there any laws about conflicts of interests of judges and the parts in the legal processes in the US?
    In Brazil, the law clearly says that a judge can't preside a process where some people related to them are already participating.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Mar 2021 @ 9:55am

      Re:

      The courts in the states will grill potential juries for all sorts of personal data and yet give the judge and da free reign. I doubt this judge will get even a strong finger waggin'.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 3 Mar 2021 @ 9:12am

    You have to wonder why she hasn't recused herself. Is there something she knows about and doesn't want coming out?

    Of course she can be impartial in this case, she's a judge, right? /s

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), 3 Mar 2021 @ 10:22am

    Update/Correction

    We've added a correction to this post. The original stated that the AG was prosecuting the case, but it's a federal case being prosecuted by the DOJ. The AG, however, has made public statements regarding the case, and his statements may be relevant to the defense in the case, hence the supboena. It remains a serious conflict of interest, but perhaps not as great as the original article made it out to be.

    We regret the error.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That Anonymous Coward (profile), 3 Mar 2021 @ 10:38am

      Re: Update/Correction

      And this is how you handle a correct campers.

      The fact her husband was (IIRC most of the time I do) using Backpage as part of his whole trillion children trafficked political dog & pony show & she is pretending that nothing he has said or done has any effect on her... ummm no.
      Now she is shielding the things he did and said, which absolutely helped poison the well with less than forthcoming statements.

      She needed to recuse herself long ago & her refusal to do so while protecting her husbands political future by denying access to material germane to the case because he had no problem screaming it from the mountains until people started to notice this was a show trial to send a message not in the interest of justice.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 4 Mar 2021 @ 2:01pm

      Re: Update/Correction

      It also may be worth noting in the article that Front Page Confidential is owned by Lacey and Larkin, so it's not exactly an impartial news source (though most people would probably guess that from the Front Page/Backpage word association).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Upstream (profile), 3 Mar 2021 @ 12:07pm

    Excellent journalism!

    Corrections / updates positioned appropriately and even italicized / highlighted! Not hidden, swept under the rug, or articles altered with no indication or comment, as is so common in much of the on-line media these days.

    Try as we might, we all occasionally make mistakes. It's how we fix them that counts.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 3 Mar 2021 @ 12:28pm

      Re: Excellent journalism!

      the fun part of placing info about Lost children was So overly Missing something. That I think enough people complained.
      No DATED material.
      Dated, but 5+ years old.
      Resolved cases, with no info that they were resolved.
      Notices from around the nation, Few in local areas, few with updates, few that were Current as of TODAY +7.
      Sending warnings around the nation when its 2000 miles away, really dont help.(please tell those on FB this)

      Cousins and friends sending notices all over the place. And I would follow them up, and out of 20+, found 3 that had not been solved/decided. Its didnt take allot to find the UPDATED info, it was that NONE of it was on the pages posted. And every post that was sent to Me, I posted the Updated info, and told those that sent it, to Quit, unless they did the follow up.
      NOW many sites linked HAVE followup info. FINALLY.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2021 @ 3:56am

    Does [alleged] nymphomaniac Judge Susan Brnovich have something to hide?

    perhaps dozens of adverts requesting men come and 'service her' whilst her husband watches from a nearby wardrobe?

    backpage should trawl its own data to see just what she meant by being 'serviced'. Maybe she needed an oil change?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2021 @ 8:37pm

    from the "we see something we don

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2021 @ 8:43pm

    from the "we something we don't like so we will abuse our power to shut it down!" department......

    we know what the laws are...... but we don't care! we have money and power! and you peasants shall grovel at our feet for your mir existence........

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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