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Judge: Craigslist not liable for prostitution ads

A U.S. District judge tells sheriff that the law is with Craigslist and the site can't be held responsible for alleged prostitution on the site.

The question of whether Craigslist is liable for the prostitution ads that can be found on the site appears to have been answered.

Greg Sandoval/CNET Networks

U.S. District Judge John Grady on Tuesday tossed out a civil complaint, filed in March by the sheriff of Illinois' Cook County, which accused Craigslist of being a public nuisance and of violating federal, state and local prostitution laws. Sheriff Tom Dart even alleged in his lawsuit that Craigslist "solicits for a arranging meetings of persons for purposes of prostitution."

If calling Craigslist a pimp seems a stretch, well, that's how Grady saw it too. He listed numerous disagreements he had with Dart's interpretation of the law. Grady's 20-page decision is dense with legal jargon and case-law citations but in the end he simply dismissed Dart's legal arguments.

"Sheriff Dart's lengthy complaint relies heavily on a few conclusory allegations to support the contention that Craigslist induces users to post ads for illegal services," the judge wrote. "Even at this stage of the case we are not required to accept those allegations at face value and they are not meaningfully different from the allegations that our Court of Appeals rejected last year...Sheriff Dart may continue to use Craigslist's Web site to identify and pursue individuals who post allegedly unlawful content...but he cannot sue Craigslist for their conduct."

Craigslist issued a brief response: "We welcome the judge's ruling."

Dart could not immediately be reached for comment.

While Craigslist had been accused in the past of being a large digital bordello, Dart's suit appeared to embolden other law enforcement agencies to challenge the Web's most popular classified service on the issue. Some suspected that Dart and others were using Craigslist to grab headlines.

A few weeks after Dart filed his complaint, the attorney general for the state of South Carolina threatened to launch a criminal investigation against the operators of Craigslist unless it cleaned up the site. Craigslist filed suit against Henry McMaster, the attorney general, and a judge issued an injunction that prevented him from filing criminal charges. McMaster eventually backed down.

It should be noted that the complaints from Dart and other attorneys general prompted Craigslist to make changes. The company did away with the old "erotic" section and created a new "adult" area. The company also hired workers to monitor the adult area to remove anything that failed to meet the site's terms of use.