Judge Whose A.G. Spouse Bashes Backpage Won’t Recuse Herself From Backpage Trial
Just how corrupt can the government’s case against Backpage get? First, prosecutors tried to have the defendants’ longtime lawyers disqualified on dubious grounds (a judge said no). Then, they turned over to the defense secret memos that contradict their claims—and could help clear defendants of the charges in question—but the court ruled these memos inadmissible since the government hadn’t meant to let anyone see them. In addition, authorities seized from former staff assets that had nothing to do with the now-defunct classified advertising website, leaving them struggling to pay for lawyers to defend them against charges of facilitating prostitution and money laundering in the face of repeated trial postponements.
Now, the judge on the Backpage case is refusing to recuse herself despite a very clear conflict of interest.
Assigned to the case is U.S. District Judge Susan M. Brnovich—wife of Arizona Attorney General (A.G.) Mark Brnovich, who has repeatedly made public and prejudicial statements related to the case.
As one example, the defense points to a booklet put out by Brnovich and his office called “Human Trafficking: Arizona’s Not Buying It.” The booklet—published two months after the April 2018 arrest of Backpage founders Michael Lacey and James Larkin and others associated with the site—asserts that online ads and social media are the primary facilitators of child sex trafficking and specifically call out Backpage as a guilty party. It contains unfounded statistics about both sex trafficking and child abuse generally and Backpage specifically, while copiously citing and promoting groups whose leaders are on the U.S. government’s witness list against Backpage.
Brnovich’s website, webinars, and social media accounts also cite these government witness groups approvingly and make statements similar to those in the booklet. Currently, under the webinar section of his website, a presentation titled “human trafficking for parents” states that “Backpage.com is where the vast majority of all advertisements were posted for sex trafficking.”
In 2017, Brnovich signed on to a letter calling for Congress to change or abolish Section 230 of federal communications law so he and other state attorneys general could sue Backpage and other websites that run third-party content they don’t like. In it, Brnovich and the other attorneys general assert directly that Backpage is guilty of promoting child sex trafficking.
“Defendants are entitled to a case presided over by a judge whose impartiality cannot be reasonably questioned,” their September 23 motion for recusal states. “Defendants move Judge Brnovich to recuse herself from this matter on th
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