Earlier this month, Backpage.com lost its appeal to have the presiding judge removed from their case about enabling rampant sex trafficking.
The 9th Circuit Court refused to compel Judge Susan Brnovich, whose husband is Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, to step aside. The Backpage executives, notably James Larkin and Michael Lacey — both of whom used to own the Phoenix New Times — attempted to argue Judge Brnovich was incapable of remaining impartial because her husband had released pamphlets and tweeted about the website being a hotbed of sex trafficking activity.
Attorney General Brnovich’s office did indeed release a pamphlet in June of 2018 titled “Human Trafficking: Arizona’s Not Buying It.” In the front part of the pamphlet, in a “Letter from Mark,” the Attorney General is quoted as saying that sex trafficking is “more than just a crime, it is a profound tragedy for all of those who fall victim.” In the same pamphlet, Backpage is listed as a website frequently used to buy sex.
You will notice an interesting fact in all of these details: Larkin, Lacey, and the rest of the Backpage executives on trial are not denying that the website was used for sex trafficking. Instead, they are arguing that Mark Brnovich’s position — that sex trafficking is a profound tragedy — is enough to make his wife an impartial judge.
How Backpage Enabled Sex Trafficking
These sort of legal arguments being bandied about by people like James Larkin and Michael Lacey should not surprise anyone who has been following the case.
In January of 2017, during a Senate Subcommittee hearing about human trafficking on Backpage, Lacey — well known as a loose cannon of sorts — let out a conspicuous yawn while senators detailed the horrors of human trafficking on his website. For the executives, the attitude behind the website’s use of sex trafficking for revenue had been similar: a sort of tacit acknowledgment and acceptance — all in a bid to rake in more cash.
This is evidenced by page after page of documents that has come to light after years of investigations. In a draft editorial that never made it to print, Lacey wrote, “Eliminating adult advertising will in no way eliminate or even reduce the incidence of prostitution in this country… For the very first time, the oldest profession in the world has transparency, record keeping, and safeguards.”
In other words, Lacey believed he was performing a public service by allowing third parties, many of whom were undoubtedly sex traffickers, to list “escort” advertising on their website. But, if the evidence is to be believed, Lacey and Larkin did much more than simply provide a blank slate for traffickers to use. They also actively facilitated the sales themselves.
According to Politico, the duo systematically edited the ads they received. They removed code words used for minors such as “Lolita,” “school girl,” and “amber alert” and replaced them with more coded terms such as “red roses” for money and “GFE” for girlfriend experience, thereby enabling the potential sale and rape of children.
Impartiality and Sex Trafficking
Let us leave the desperate legal pandering to the side. When it comes to the courtroom, words like “impartiality” have precise meanings. And when the 9th Circuit Court heard the defendant’s argument, they interpreted it exclusively in a legal sense, saying that Judge Brnovich’s decision to remain on the case was not “clearly erroneous as a matter of law.”
But on a moral level, impartiality means something else entirely. The impartial position when it comes to sex trafficking is simply this: Complete and total condemnation.
Anyone with even a shred of moral fiber understands this, and no one could ever lack impartiality simply because they recognize the truth. Sex trafficking is one of the world’s last great evils, and simply understanding this fact should not disqualify anyone from passing judgment on the people who enable it.
In fact, it is a prerequisite for being able to do so. The more people that understand the reality behind the sex trade, the more people will be ready to create the legislation necessary to get rid of it.