Judge dismisses Craigslist lawsuit

October 22, 2009 4:59:28 PM PDT
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has lost a legal battle with the Craigslist Web site. A judge has dismissed Dart's attempt to force Craigslist to eliminate its erotic or adult services section.

Dart's lawsuit accused Craigslist of aiding unlawful acts including prostitution, underage pimping, and human trafficking.

The sheriff's lawsuit raised constitutional questions. Are Internet sites immune from criminal responsibility if some of their users push the limit of the law?

The sheriff contended that what happened on the erotic services section of Craigslist wasn't pushing the law. It was outright lawbreaking, and Craigslist was responsible.

Federal Judge John Grady doesn't see it that way and has ruled that the sheriff's lawsuit is fatally flawed.

"This is horrific stuff folks," said Dart.

In news conferences that brought national attention, the sheriff charged that Craigslist through its erotic services section had become the largest source of prostitution in the U.S. and that as a Web site, it was willfully facilitating crime.

Federal Judge John Grady does not agree, ruling that Craiglist as an Internet site is an intermediary, and is not culpable for aiding and abetting customers who misuse the service to commit crimes. Grady writes that if "users routinely flout Craigslist guidelines, it is not because Craigslist has caused them to do so."

The sheriff, Grady says, can certainly pursue individuals allegedly committing crimes via the Internet, but he cannot sue Craiglist for their conduct.

"Please, are you trying to tell me for two seconds that the federal authorities have said if there's criminal conduct on the internet, you're OK, that you can do that as long as you're on the internet and you can get away with it. I don't think there's anybody on the planet that thinks that is what we can do," said Dart.

Dart contends there are levels of immunity, and that Grady's ruling misses the mark.

Within months of the Sheriff's lawsuit, Craigslist added new safeguards to its Erotic services section promising a higher level of pre-screening of ads. Dart says those measures are laudable but of minor consequence.

"We're very interested in pursuing this to the next level as far as an appeal," said Dart.

The sheriff is himself an attorney and wants to appeal, but he'll be consulting with others before that decision is made, probably in short order.

Craigslist said Thursday its only reaction is, "we welcome Judge Grady's decision."


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