I have been a vocal critic of Virginia’s attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, since he’s been in office. Part of that, admittedly, is that I have felt that he is putting forth a poor image of Italian Americans on the national stage. Particularly with regard to the immigration debate, in some respects the Commonwealth’s equivalent to my home state’s “mosque” controversy, I have openly wondered whether he may have forgotten where his — and my — not-so-distant ancestors came from not so long ago. In addition, I think some of his “escapades” are just a waste of taxpayer money. That said, he has finally found a cause that I can support and, in fact, that I feel that he has not gone far enough with: investigating Craigslist.
First, let me say that I have had positive experiences with Craigslist. But its problems go far beyond the “Adult” section and permeate the “For Sale” and “Jobs” sections as well. Let me illustrate with my recent adventures on the latter.
I am an attorney with a private practice that I am looking to grow. In this economy, Craigslist has been a useful resource for finding more than a few good clients. Recently I answered two ads under “Jobs – Legal,” both in the mortgage foreclosure defense field. The first was with a partnership of two young females in the Tysons Corner area of Northern Virginia. On the first interview, only one partner showed up late. The second time, after a half an hour of patiently waiting, neither appeared. I thought the third time would be the charm, but although both partners were present and I provided them with a lot of feedback on their caseload, which they semi-assigned to me, for free, no contract was forthcoming and no files actually changed hands. Promises, promises…
Several weeks later, out of the blue, I received a tickler e-mail from the Fairfax County (VA) Bar Association reminding me that I had signed up for a pro bono legal seminar on uncontested divorces. Quelle Surprise! One of the addresses cc’d belonged to the partnership. Nice to know that they had allocated my time for me — again — in this instance, without notifying me in advance or informing me after the fact! I attended the seminar, mostly because I am interested in the subject matter and wanted to support the pro bono director, who I know, and the cause, which is a good one. While we were waiting for one of the partners to turn up (she was 15 minutes late and did not apologize on arrival), the director went around the room asking each of the attendees to state their name and what type of law they practiced. The partner who had managed to show up on time had to admit she had no law license and was sitting for the Bar in January. This was in early August. My heart sunk! Adios Amigas…
Undaunted, I answered another similar ad on Craigslist and spoke with a gentleman on the phone for a half hour. I liked his novel theory for the handling of these sorts of cases and the opportunity to treat the clients he assigned to me as my own, with “team” support for the esoteric forensics. But then he sent me an e-mail containing a “petition” which he wanted me to record in Fairfax County, basically a reword of the FDCPA demand letter and subpoena combined, but court captioned. When I inquired, he told me that the specific case in question had not yet been docketed. Red flag! I refused to put my bar number on this faux filing clearly intended for posturing — as if it would fool anyone including an intake clerk — and he got testy and personally insulting, telling me I had trust issues, etc. You think?
Both of these postings seemed legitimate far beyond the initial Craigslist text. As do attorneys who are now advertising their credentials on the “Jobs” boards rather than the “Services” boards on that site, because they know that on the latter, the Virginia Bar and other state bars will monitor them.
Which brings me back to Ken. The Attorney General needs to expand his investigation to the entire site. Have staff troll all the boards as job seekers, employers, sellers, buyers, etc. He would be shocked. Plus in so doing, it would be a non-discriminatory probe, beyond the solicitations for prostitutes and child trafficking that he is currently targeting, and less likely to face a constitutional challenge based on suspect classifications created on “morality” grounds. Perhaps he would even be more successful in prodding Craigslist to clean its act up itself, beyond just censoring the “Services-Adult” board, which only serves to shift the complained of activity to the “Personals.” By broadening his cause, he could make it — and himself — more sympathetic to the general public.
Unless Mr. Cuccinelli is a master of bilocation, there is a contradiction with a free-market Republican asserting “public interest” selectively as a justification for the infringement on self-policing and self-regulation which is his party’s mantra. His stance in opposition to federal health care mandates comes to mind. It is also doubtful that his crusade in its present form will be able to overcome the dictates of the US Constitution and its amendments, particularly the Commerce Clause and the First Amendment, and succeed where others have historically failed. The victims on Craigslist go beyond women and children. Sadly, you cannot keep people from “behaving” badly, perhaps Virginia’s AG included. And as a sage stalwart of the GOP (Barry Goldwater) once so memorably articulated, “you can’t legislate morality.” Different branch of government, same principle.
I continue to oppose his positions on “less than academic freedom in state schools,” abortion, and climate change. But having had my own adventures on Craigslist, I think he may be onto something there. So while I still don’t have a yen for Ken, I’m getting lukewarm.
Karen Ann DeLuca is an attorney residing in Virginia.