CHICAGO — A federal judge today approved a temporary restraining order against Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart after Backpage.com alleged he employed backdoor methods to pressure credit card companies to stop processing its adult services ads.
Today, U.S. District Judge John Tharp Jr. found that Backpage.com demonstrated that it has a likelihood of succeeding on the merits of its claim "that Dart violated and threatens to continue violating the First Amendment rights of Backpage and its users."
The jurist issued a TRO for 10 days and set a status hearing on the motion for next Tuesday.
“Sheriff Dart and his office and all employees, agents, or others who are acting or have acted on behalf on Sheriff Dart are temporarily restrained from taking any actions, including but not limited to sending letters, to formally or informally request, direct, persuade, coerce, or threaten credit card companies, processors, financial institutions or any other third parties to discontinue, terminate, disallow or interfere with payment or services to Backpage.com,” Tharp ordered today.
Backpage.com alleged that Dart’s efforts have been successful because Visa and Mastercard blocked use of their cards for any purchases on the website, while American Express blocked purchases in the adult category.
The site, which publishes 1.4 million adult services ads across the country and brings in at least $9 million, the sheriff's office said, claimed in its legal challenge at Chicago federal court that the sheriff’s actions have "effected an informal extralegal prior restraint of speech without due process.”
Industry attorney Lawrence Walters of the Walters Law Group told XBIZ he welcomed the news on the motion for a TRO.
“This is a very positive development, and shows that the court is taking the case seriously,” he said. “The preliminary injunction proceeding will be closely watched.”