Thursday, April 17, 2014
By Ann S. Kim firstname.lastname@example.org
Kennebunk police released the names of 21 suspected prostitution clients of a Zumba instructor Monday without providing any other identifying information, such as ages, hometowns or addresses.
A for lease sign hangs in the window of the former Pura Vida fitness studio in Kennebunk recently. Alexis Wright has been charged with running a prostitution operation out of the studio and a nearby one-room office.
AP / Clarke Canfield
The highly anticipated release followed a ruling by Superior Court Justice Thomas Warren that denied an attempt by two alleged "johns" to prevent police and prosecutors from making the names public.
Warren decided, however, that the addresses of alleged clients who may be victims of violation of privacy in the case would be withheld.
The names are the first released from what has come to be known widely as "the list," which reportedly has more than 150 names, including those of prominent figures.
Kennebunk police released them in accordance with directions from Town Attorney William Dale, who said he interpreted Warren's order and the statute the judge cited to mean that no other information should be made public.
Dale said he instructed police to omit all addresses and ages because it wasn't immediately clear which suspects were possible victims of invasion of privacy. Police will add the identifying information for those who are not victims and send it to the media, Dale said.
Each of the 21 people has been charged with engaging a prostitute, a misdemeanor. Each is due in Biddeford District Court on Dec. 5.
The Portland Press Herald will not publish the names of the alleged prostitution clients without verifying their identities.
Executive Editor Cliff Schechtman said, "Justice Warren's decision to release names without address information such as hometown creates confusion and can damage the reputations of innocent individuals with similar names."
He said, "We will publish the names only when their identities are clearly revealed."
The case has drawn national attention to Kennebunk, which has been bracing for the names on the list to become public.
Alexis Wright, 29, operated a business in Kennebunk where authorities say she prostituted herself and secretly taped the encounters.
Police said in an affidavit that searches of Wright's business and her home in Wells turned up "meticulous" client records, hours of recorded sex acts and evidence that those acts would have generated $150,000.
Wright has pleaded not guilty to 106 charges in the case. Most of the charges are misdemeanors, but she also faces three felony charges, related to taxes and receiving public assistance when ineligible.
Her alleged partner, Mark Strong Sr., 57, has pleaded not guilty to 59 misdemeanors. The businessman from Thomaston is charged with violation of privacy, promotion of prostitution and conspiracy to commit those crimes.
One man said late Monday that he's furious that someone with the same name as his is on the list, and that people think it's him.
He said Kennebunk police should have released more information so people would know he is not charged with engaging a prostitute.
He said his telephone had been ringing since the list was released late Monday afternoon.
"I'm almost to tears and I'm 65 years old," he said. "This is how bad it hurts me."
Asked about possible misidentifications, Kennebunk police Lt. Anthony Bean Burpee said he is barred from releasing any more information.
Monday's developments followed a last-minute effort by two alleged "johns" to stop the anticipated release of names.
The two, represented by lawyer Stephen Schwartz, went to court Thursday, the day before police were expected to begin releasing names.
The plaintiffs lost their initial attempt in Biddeford District Court late Thursday and an appeal there the next day. They filed a notice of appeal to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Friday, but withdrew it Monday and filed a new complaint in Superior Court, where Warren got the case.
On Friday, police removed the names from the police blotter they regularly send to the media, citing the continuing action in the courts. There was no legal barrier to releasing the names at the time, Dale said, but there was no ongoing harm done by waiting for a short time.
"The town believes at this point it has waited an appropriate period of time for the plaintiffs to seek temporary injunctive relief," Dale said Monday. "And at this point, the town will release those names in accordance with the court's order issued this afternoon."
In his order, Warren wrote that the names of the defendants are public information.
"The principle that court proceedings are public is essential to public confidence," Warren wrote. "If persons charged with crimes could withhold their identities, the public would not be able to monitor proceedings or observe whether justice has been done and to observe whether certain defendants may have received favored treatment."
Warren disagreed with Schwartz that identities should be concealed for defendants who also may be crime victims. But the judge said they were entitled to have their addresses withheld.
Sigmund Schutz, a lawyer for the Press Herald, said he would ask Warren on Tuesday to reconsider his ruling. He said he was hopeful that the judge would take another look at a ruling made with very little time to consider the repercussions and consequences.
"We feel strongly that names and addresses of people charged with crimes are public records," he said.
Some Maine media organizations published the names as they were received from police on Monday while others did not.
The York County Coast Star of Kennebunk, the Journal Tribune of Biddeford, WCSH-TV, WGME-TV and New England Cable News published the names.
WMTW-TV, the Bangor Daily News and The Associated Press did not.
Bob Steele, a professor of journalism ethics at DePauw University in Indiana, said it was problematic to release the names without any other identifying information because it could hurt someone who is not involved.
He said journalists generally do not -- and should not -- simply publish all information provided by police.
"Our job is not to be stenographers," Steele said. "The job of journalism is to make thoughtful, careful decisions about what we publish, whether it's on paper, online or on television."
Steele said he doesn't believe there's a strong journalistic purpose to identifying the alleged "johns" in this case unless they hold prominent positions.
Because of their roles, people such as police officers, ministers or school principals warrant consideration, but their names should not automatically be published, he said.
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Staff Writer David Hench contributed to this report.
Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at: email@example.com