Backpage Founders Trial Pushed to 2021 Due to Coronavirus Fears

LOS ANGELES—Amid Arizona’s record surge in coronavirus infection cases, the trial of Backpage.com founders Michael Lacey and James Larkin will wait until January of 2021, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday. The trial had previously been set to face a jury on August 17.  Lacey, 70, and Larkin, 69, were founders of the New Times chain of “alternative” weekly newspapers, including the Phoenix New Times, as well as New Times L.A., as well as several other papers across the country. They eventually purchased Village Voice Media, acquiring the legendary New York City weekly along with another chain of papers, adding to their portfolio.  But in 2004, they founded the online classified advertising site Backpage.com, which quickly proved a haven for sex workers advertising their services. The site was so lucrative that Larkin and Lacey sold off their weekly newspapers to focus solely on Backpage — despite accusations that the site also provided cover for criminal sex trafficking. In April of 2018, federal agents seized the site, and arrested Lacey and Larkin. A lengthy indictment charged  the pair, and other Backpage execs, with multiple counts of facilitating prostitution and money laundering.  But while the complex case was finally set for trial later this summer, the coronavirus pandemic has thrown a wrench in the works. On May 29, Lacey and Larkin’s lawyers asked for the trial delay due to fears that the trial could not be conducted safely amid the pandemic. Last week, they amended that motion  as cases of the virus quickly shot upward in Arizona. Due to the spike, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has required all travelers to that state to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. In the amended motion, the lawyers say that they are based in New York, and the quarantine requirement would make commuting back and forth too burdensome, and would slow the legal process.  In her ruling this week, federal Judge Susan Brnovich said that there was no way to conduct the trial safely amid the pandemic, due to the large number of people who would need to be present in the courtroom. The trial includes not only Lacey and Larkin, but four other defendants, many of whom are represented by multiple lawyers — including nine on Lacey’s legal team alone.  Brnovich agreed with Lacey and Larkin’s contentions. “The Court feels that it cannot ensure the health and safety of all trial participants at this time,” she ruled. She also noted that numerous witnesses would be required to travel into Arizona for the trial, possibly endangering their health. On Wednesday morning, Arizona health officials said that they recorded 4,878 coronavirus cases in the state, a new one-day high, along with 88 fatalities, another state one-day record. Both of those numbers topped the previous records, set on the previous day. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, who had been criticized for rushing the state’s reopening plan, announced Tuesday that he was now throwing those plans into reverse, ordering bars and nightclubs, gyms, movie theaters and water parks to close back down for at least one month.  The start of the K-12 school year in Arizona would also be pushed back at least two weeks, Ducey announced. Photos by Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office

written by: Lawrence Avery

source: Backpage Founders Trial Pushed to 2021 Due to Coronavirus Fears | AVN