Backpage Judge Accused of Bias Will Remain on Case


Appeals court rejects petition to compel judge to step down. Former executives are set to go to trial in August, after having the trial delayed multiple times in the three years since they were arrested for allegedly facilitating prostitution through the platform's online classified ads. The judge on the case will be someone whose spouse has repeatedly helped spread anti–sex work propaganda, including claims that sites where sex workers advertise are hot spots of human trafficking.

The defendants—including Backpage founders and veteran journalists Michael Lacey and James Larkin—asked last fall for U.S. District Judge Susan M. Brnovich to recuse herself. Brnovich is married to Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, whose office for years has spread myths about sex trafficking, including the idea that " is where the vast majority of all advertisements were posted for sex trafficking."

The defendants suggested this presents a conflict of interest, or at least an "appearance of partiality," for Brnovich—who as a state judge appeared in at least one of her husband's campaign ads for attorney general and was regularly pictured alongside him, including at fundraising events, before being confirmed as a federal judge in 2018.

Any actions sympathetic to the Backpage defendants could appear as Brnovich suggesting her husband is a liar, and perhaps be bad for his future political prospects.

Under U.S. law, having any "interest that could be substantially affected by the outcome " of a case and having a spouse whose "interest that could be substantially affected by the outcome of the proceeding" are both grounds for recusal. In addition, the law states that "any justice, judge, or magistrate judge of the United States shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned."

But Brnovich refused to recuse herself, and the defendants appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, asking that the higher court compel Brnovich's recusal.

On April 5, the 9th Circuit rejected their request.

Brnovich "committed no clear error" in refusing to recuse herself, a three-judge panel wrote in their opinion.

Some—including a representative for the judge's husband's office—are attempting to spin the request for recusal as some sort of anti-feminist outrage, instead of the standard operating procedure for federal judges who could so much as appear to have a conflict of interest. Katie Conner, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, told the Associated Press, "it's abhorrent that the defendants in this case insinuate a woman can't speak and think for herself."

The Backpage trial is slated to start on August 23.

Backpage Judge Accused of Bias Will Remain on Case Backpage Judge Accused of Bias Will Remain on Case Reviewed by STATION GOSSIP on 08:26 Rating: 5

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