Trial for Backpage founders delayed due to COVID-19 issues
PHOENIX (AP) — A judge has called off testimony Thursday at the trial of the former operators of the classified site Backpage.com so that one of them could get tested for the coronavirus.
The recess came after Andrew Padilla, who worked as the site’s operations manager, let the court know that he wasn’t feeling well.
Judge Susan Brnovich told jurors to plan to return to court Friday morning. If Padilla tests positive, the judge said court staff would contact jurors to relay what the plan will be going forward.
Michael Lacey, James Larkin, Padilla and three other Backpage employees are on trial on prostitution facilitation charges in what authorities say was a scheme to knowingly sell ads for sex. All six have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Prosecutors say the site hired content moderators whose job was not to remove prostitution ads but to edit them so they weren’t so blatant.
The defendants maintain they didn’t publish ads for sex and that the site was protected by the First Amendment in publishing legally allowable ads for escort services.
Their lawyers also say the site beefed up its efforts to spot illegal ads and earned compliments from law enforcement for their assistance in investigations.