Craigslist Sues South Carolina AG Over Criminal Prosecution Threats

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Craigslist's chief executive officer is suing South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster, seeking relief from legal threats and claims that the company promoted prostitution with its adult-related ads posted on the site.

Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster said in a blog post that the San Francisco-based company filed a lawsuit that aims to seek declaratory relief and a restraining order that would stave off criminal charges as well as McMaster's threats against the company and its executives.

Buckmaster said that the lawsuit was in response to McMaster's recent public threats alleging that Craigslist site executives were responsible for explicit ads for prostitution. McMaster claimed last week that he would press charges against Craigslist executives for aiding prostitution by supporting sexual solicitation ads that might lead to prostitution in the state of South Carolina. So far, no charges have been brought against Craigslist.

"In addition to being unwarranted by the facts, legal experts agree that the charges threatened represent an unconstitutional prior restraint on free speech, and are clearly barred by federal law," Buckmaster said in his posting.

Less than 24 hours after Craigslist filed the lawsuit, McMaster said in a South Carolina government blog post Wednesday that the threat of prosecution compelled Craigslist to take action to clean up the ads, and claimed victory regarding the issue.

"Overnight [Craigslist] has removed the erotic services section from their Web site, as we asked them to do. And they are now taking responsibility for the content of their future advertisements. If they keep their word, this is a victory for law enforcement and for the people of South Carolina," he said.

In recent months, Craigslist had undergone public scrutiny after several law enforcement agencies claimed that the site's section tabbed "erotic" fostered online prostitution, where individuals could post pornographic pictures or solicit sexual activity.

However, Buckmaster announced last week, prior to McMaster's prosecution threats, that he planned to screen the adult ads for prostitution and eliminate the erotic section from the site.

Buckmaster added in his blog post that the company has made representatives available to hear McMaster's concerns in person and "has far fewer and far tamer adult service ads than many mainstream print and online venues operating in South Carolina."

McMaster did not indicate that South Carolina would continue its investigation or pursue criminal charges against the site.

"We trust they will now adhere to the higher standards they have promised," McMaster said. "This office and the law enforcement agencies of South Carolina will continue to monitor the site to make certain that our laws are respected."

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