Craigslist Sues South Carolina Attorney General

CHARLOTTE, S.C. – Craigslist has filed a federal lawsuit against South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster who is seeking to prosecute the ad website and its principals for allegedly fostering prostitution and pornography. According to The State newspaper, Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster made the announcement Wednesday morning.

In a blog post, Buckmaster said the suit seeks "declaratory relief and a restraining order with respect to criminal charges he [McMaster] has repeatedly threatened against Craigslist and its executives."

Two weeks ago, McMaster demanded Craigslist completely remove all South Carolina versions of its "Erotic Services" section by Friday, May 15.

While the site had agreed, following a meeting in New York with several state attorneys general, to take down the section and then replace it with monitored "Adult" section, it didn't meet McMaster’s ultimatum deadline.

McMaster also argued an adult section would be no different, threatened Craigslist with legal action and confirmed Sunday he is now proceeding with a criminal investigation and prosecution of the site and key management.

Buckmaster called McMaster's agenda "unwarranted by the facts," adding his actions "represent an unconstitutional prior restraint on free speech, and are clearly barred by federal law," citing sec 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

McMaster responded Wednesday with a statement indicating his entire goal had really been to provoke the site into a response over the charges.

"It shows that Craigslist is taking the matter seriously for the first time," he said, according to the Wall Street Journal.

"Unfortunately, we had to inform them of possible state criminal violations concerning their past practices to produce a serious response," McMaster said. "We trust they will now adhere to the higher standards they have promised."

It's unclear if this means McMaster is backing off prosecution, though he did state his office will continue to monitor Craigslist.

In related news, Queens, New York's Room Service Entertainment, a 24-hour call girl operation that advertised exclusively on Craigslist, was busted Wednesday, seven people indicted, including the service's co-owners.

According to the New York Daily News, state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said the business ran a prostitution ring between June 2007 and December 2008.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles on Monday, a convicted sex offender pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the 2007 disappearance of an Orange County woman he allegedly met via Craigslist.

John Steven Burgess was sentenced for dumping the body of Donna Jou, following a night of drugs. Burgess swore to the victim's family that he didn't intentionally harm the college honor student, claiming she overdosed.

The Los Angeles Times  reports Jou's parents have placed part of the blame on Craigslist, the family sending the site a letter, written by attorney Gloria Allred, requesting changes in ad placement to contend with prior sex offenders.

For more about Craigslist under fire, please see previous coverage.