Court Roundup

Washington

3 teenagers file suit against Backpage.com


TACOMA, Wash. (AP) — Three Washington teenagers who say they were sold online for sex have sued the website Backpage.com, accusing the website’s owners of enabling their exploitation.

Two 13-year-old girls from Pierce County and one 15-year-old from King County, which encompasses Seattle, filed the lawsuit Friday in Pierce County Superior Court, The News Tribune of Tacoma reported Sunday.

Seattle attorney Liz McDougall, who represents Backpage’s corporate owners, said the lawsuit will not pass legal muster and is barred by federal law. The site is owned by Village Voice Media in New York.

Backpage is a popular online destination for escort services. The company has been under heavy pressure to change the way it operates.

In May, the mayors of nearly 50 cities across the U.S. — including New York, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Philadelphia — signed a letter urging Village Voice Media to require identification for people posting escort ads on Backpage.com.

“Is it proper for some outfit, for some entity, to make millions of dollars not only in trafficking women, but even more importantly trafficking children?” asked Seattle attorney Mike Pfau, who with Erik Bauer represents the teens. “No. It is absolutely unacceptable.”

The lawsuit alleges that photos of the underage girls in skimpy garb appeared in numerous ads on the site, paid for by their pimps. It accuses the owners of doing nothing to prevent it. The actions described in the complaint date to 2010.

The website require ad buyers to click an on-screen button to verify that the users are 18 or older, but the lawsuit alleges it’s not much of a deterrent, the News Tribune reported.
“Other than requiring the poster of the ad to agree to this term by ‘clicking’ on the posting rules page, Backpage.com does nothing to verify the age of the escorts who appear in its prostitution ads, even though it knows that pimps are usually the ones who create the ads, or force their minor sex slaves to do so,” the complaint said.

McDougall, the company’s attorney, offered sympathy for the young women.

“The stories of the girls identified in the complaint are tragedies. However, the commercial sex exploitation of children is an extremely complex problem on the streets and online, and it must be fought intelligently,” McDougall wrote in an email to the newspaper.

“Backpage.com is at the forefront of fighting it intelligently online with a triple-tier prevention system and an unparalleled law enforcement support system.”

Also on Friday, Backpage attorneys won a procedural victory in federal court. U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo Martinez granted an injunction that halts a new state law that would require classified advertising companies to verify the ages of people in sex-related advertisements.

Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the law this year to cut down on child sex trafficking. It had  been scheduled to take effect in June.

The decision issued by U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo S. Martinez on Friday is temporary, until the full case can be heard in court.


Pennsylvania
Preliminary hearing set for high court justice


PITTSBURGH (AP) — A preliminary hearing is set in Pittsburgh for state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin on campaign corruption charges.

Melvin has denied the charges, recommended by an Allegheny County grand jury, and suggested they’re a political vendetta by Democrat District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. Melvin is a conservative Republican from Pittsburgh’s North Hills suburbs.

The grand jury found that Melvin illegally used her taxpayer-funded staff when she was still a Superior Court judge to campaign for a seat on the high court in 2003 and again in 2009, when she won her Supreme Court race.

Melvin’s sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, is in prison after being convicted on similar charges related to the senator’s own campaigns, although Orie was acquitted of charges that she also directed her legislative staff to work on Melvin’s campaigns.


Colorado
DA appoints an advocate for Colo. shooting victims


CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) — The former legal director of the Rocky Mountain Victim Law Center has been appointed to enforce the rights of victims in the Aurora theater shooting case.

The 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office announced Monday that Lisa Teesch-Maguire has been named the case’s victims’ rights specialist and advocate.

In a statement, DA Carol Chambers said that the office wants the very best for victims. She said that Teesch-Maquire has spent the last 1-1/2 years enforcing the Colorado Victims’ Rights Act in courts across Colorado.

Teesh-Maquire formerly served as the chief assistant attorney general in American Samoa and also worked as a prosecutor for Chambers.

She holds a law degree and an M.B.A. from the University of Colorado.


New Mexico
Alamogordo clinic malpractice suits settled for $33M


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — About 80 malpractice claims that forced an Alamogordo hospital to seek bankruptcy court protection last summer have been settled for more than $33 million.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that that settlement lets the Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center, the largest hospital in Otero County, to emerge from bankruptcy protection.

Former patients alleged in lawsuits that they were injured when a Plexiglas-like cement that was used in spinal procedures and supposed to act as a cushion in the disk space and relieve spinal pain had seeped into other areas of the spine before it hardened, or hardened and later cracked into pieces.

Dr. Christian Schlicht, an anesthesiologist and pain management specialist, is accused of using fraudulent credentials to operate on patients even though he wasn’t a surgeon and injected the cement into patients’ spines in a procedure that turned out to be neither safe nor effective.

When an operating room nurse at the hospital reported to a supervisor that Schlicht’s back surgeries had gone too far, another doctor said that the nurse told him that she was told “to leave things the way they are.”

And after a health insurance company balked at paying for his procedures and questioned his qualifications, records show officials at the hospital took Schlicht’s side and threatened to sue the insurer.

Two years later, former patients began to file lawsuits contending the spinal procedures left them with debilitating injury and pain. Some have partial paralysis; others have lost bladder and bowel functions, court records allege.

Dr. Frank Bryant, the only other physician performing spine surgeries at the hospital, has said that Schlicht had told him in late 2008 that some of Schlicht’s neurosurgery training was falsified

Bryant, an orthopedic surgeon, sometimes performed spine operations with Schlicht.

Bryant, who was a defendant in the lawsuits along with Schlicht, said during his deposition that he thought Schlicht was a legitimate neurosurgeon but now says he was misled.
Bryant denied any wrongdoing.

Records show claims against Bryant were settled for $11.5 million earlier this year.

According to his deposition, Bryant said he always gave Schlicht the “benefit of the doubt,” but now believes Schlicht performed surgeries he wasn’t qualified to perform, billed for procedures incorrectly and gave false statements about his training and qualifications.

Bryant was recently reprimanded by the state Medical Board in connection with the cement injections but still retains his New Mexico medical license.

He closed his practice in February 2011. His lawyer said Bryant was in the process of leaving the state and establishing a practice elsewhere.

Last summer, Schlicht was hired as a senior flight surgeon at a U.S. Air Force base in Japan. He is still on assignment as a lieutenant colonel, according to an Air Force spokesman.

Schlicht’s osteopathic medical license in New Mexico has lapsed.

Citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, Schlicht refused to answer most questions during a deposition in New Mexico in June 2011.

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