Federal judge tosses lawsuit, allows Attorney General investigation into Backpage.com

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit that sought to block the Missouri Attorney General from conducting an investigation.

The lawsuit, filed by Backpage.com, came after Attorney General Josh Hawley’s office had requested documents and information as part of an investigation that began in May into whether the company had violated Missouri’s consumer-protection laws.

The company called the request “enormously broad” and argued that it didn’t have control over the sex-related advertisements. They also denied any involvement in alleged human-trafficking activities.

For years, elected officials, law enforcement officers, and sex-trafficking victims have raised concerns regarding Backpage.comAn article by the Washington Post revealed that a contractor for Backpage.com had been aggressively soliciting and creating sex-related ads, thanks to a collection of spreadsheets, emails, audio files and employee manuals.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Patricia Cohen threw out the lawsuit Tuesday, citing a 1971 Supreme Court ruling, Younger v. Harris, which states that federal courts should not interfere with an ongoing state proceeding.

“I am glad the court rejected this meritless lawsuit,” Hawley said. “My office is now able to move beyond legal sidestepping and focus on what matters—fighting to eradicate this terrible crime in Missouri.”

Benjamin Peters is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine, and also produces the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined the Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield. To contact Benjamin, email benjamin@themissouritimes.com or follow him on Twitter @BenjaminDPeters.