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Craigslist sues South Carolina attorney general

Seeks restraining order for 'erotic services' threat

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Craigslist wants a restraining order barring South Carolina's attorney general Henry McMaster from grandstanding threats of criminal charges over the website's adult listings.

The online classified site's chief executive, Jim Buckmaster, said Wednesday that Craigslist has filed a lawsuit against McMaster seeking declaratory relief as well as a restraining order from the prosecutor's posturing.

A declaratory judgment in the site's favor would clarify that Craigslist hadn't broken any applicable laws regarding its now-defunct "erotic services" category, but awards no monetary damages.

McMaster labeled the lawsuit against his office "good news" in a statement today, adding "it shows that Craigslist is taking the matter seriously this time."

Sadly, it appears like the dispute could have been avoided entirely had McMaster — who is considering a run for governor — not ignored Craigslist's response and instead insisted the "erotic services" category be taken down by his own particular timeframe.

In the wake of sensationalized coverage of the so-called "Craigslist murder" late last month, several US law officials began stepping up demands to have Craigslist's erotic listings section permanently shuttered. The website's "erotic services" category has has long-been accused of facilitating enormous amounts of prostitution.

Among the officials calling for "erotic" extermination, on May 5, McMaster threatened a criminal investigation and possible charges against Craigslist and its executives if the erotic listing weren't removed from the site's South Carolina listings within 10 days.

Although the Craigslist insisted it wasn't breaking any laws — and had months earlier entered a pact with the attorneys general of over 40 US states to implement new screening policies for the "erotic services" ads — the website ultimately bowed to public pressure.

On May 13, Buckmaster announced Craigslist will no longer accept "erotic services" listings and would completely remove the section on May 20. A new "adult services" section was immediately opened as a replacement, which requires each posting to be manually reviewed before appearing on the site.

Three days later (and one day after McMaster's own 10 day ultimatum was up), McMaster announced on the South Carolina attorney general's website that the offending listings were still there, and his office has "no alternative but to move forward with a criminal investigation and potential prosecution."

No charges have actually been filed by the attorney general against Craigslist to date.

Buckmaster responded with heated posts on Craigslist's official blog, saying the threats of prosecution have no legal merit and demanded McMaster retract his remarks and apologize.

On Wednesday (the day Buckmaster said the "erotic services" section would be removed), the website filed its lawsuit in South Carolina federal court. The state attorney general in turn appears to be pretending the website hadn't intended to take down the "erotic services" category on this day all along. After declaring the lawsuit "good news," he added:

"More importantly, overnight they have removed the erotic services section from their website, as we asked them to do. And they are now taking responsibility from the content of their future advertisers. If they keep their word, this is a victory for law enforcement and for the people of South Carolina."

The state attorney general goes on to say his office "had" to inform Craigslist of possible criminal violations concerning their past practices "to produce a serious response."

"We trust they will now adhere to the higher standards they have promised," McMaster wrote. ®

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