Craigslist wants back into SC lawsuit vs McMaster


COLUMBIA — Craigslist wants a federal judge to reconsider his decision to dismiss its lawsuit against South Carolina’s top prosecutor, arguing that Attorney General Henry McMaster’s statements about continuing to investigate the online classified ads giant represent threats to employees.

A hearing on Craigslist’s request is set for February.

Craigslist sued McMaster in 2009, after the prosecutor pushed for all adult services ads to be pulled from the company’s South Carolina sites. A year earlier, after the arrest of a former Boston medical student charged with killing a masseuse he met on the website, McMaster had begun pressing Craigslist to stop allowing prostitution services ads.

Craigslist had offered to start screening ads to block illegal ones, but McMaster said he wanted all adult services ads removed Craigslist’s South Carolina sites. That’s when the company sued, saying Craigslist is protected from prosecution because it is not advertising for those services, merely providing a forum for advertising.

A judge dismissed the lawsuit in August, ruling that no one at Craigslist has been charged with a crime and that it was premature to decide whether its activities were exempt from prosecution. McMaster heralded the decision as a victory for the state’s law enforcement but said that South Carolina’s investigation into any prostitution-related claims regarding Craigslist was ongoing.

Several weeks after the ruling, Craigslist asked the judge to reconsider, arguing that McMaster’s comments showed that the prosecutor still intended to prosecute the company — thereby, Craigslist argued, revalidating the company’s lawsuit.

“Defendant McMaster’s official public announcement, even before the ink on the Order was dry, that craigslist is still the subject of an active State criminal investigation ... confirms that craigslist’s apprehension of prosecution for its ongoing activities is far from imaginary or speculative,” attorneys for Craigslist wrote in the court papers filed in late August.

McMaster and other prosecutors named in Craigslist’s lawsuit responded in court, arguing that the judge’s ruling should stand. Today a spokesman for McMaster’s office said the prosecutor wasn’t stunned by Craigslist’s actions.

“It’s fairly common for the losing party to request a rehearing after a dismissal,” Gene McCaskill said. “This office will respond appropriately.”

Craigslist has made some changes since its August court filings. In September, the website’s adult services section was replaced by a black and white “censored” logo after more than a dozen state attorneys general demanded the shutdown the because the company couldn’t adequately block potentially illegal ads promoting prostitution and child trafficking. A check of various Craigslist sites today, including those for South Carolina, showed no “adult services” heading.

A spokeswoman for Craigslist did not immediately return a message today.