October 26, 2012

Our View: Releasing names alone compounds the harm in prostitution case

Can you ever be too careful? Superior Court Justice Thomas Warren has shown that you can and that innocent people can get hurt.

click image to enlarge

Alexis Wright, left, and Mark Strong Sr., center, have been charged in connection with alleged prostitution in Kennebunk. A judge on Monday ordered the release of the names of the alleged "johns," but no other identifying information. At right is Wright's attorney, Sarah Churchill.

Press Herald file photo by Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

Warren has control of the names of the alleged clients charged in the Kennebunk Zumba studio prostitution case, which has got to be the most talked about list of misdemeanor summonses in Maine history.

Unnamed "John Doe" suspects hired a lawyer and fought to keep their names secret. But Justice Warren rightfully ruled that doing so would undermine confidence in the criminal justice system by preventing the public from observing the prosecution and determining whether it was fair.

But then Warren went too far. He ruled that although the police blotter included the names of the accused men and could be released, their addresses should be suppressed because their sexual encounters may have been surreptitiously videotaped, making them potential victims of invasion of privacy.

As victims, they are entitled to some protection. But in his attempt to give them a little bit of cover, he has exposed everyone in the state with a similar name to some heavy scrutiny. If Warren had at least released the names, ages and hometowns of the summonsed men, innocent ones would be protected from undeserved embarrassment. As is, the list creates a lot of unnecessary problems.

Until the names are verified, you won't read the list in these newspapers, but it is out on the Internet and is being thoroughly examined. No one, not even the innocent, will be spared from the gossip.

This could have been avoided. The crime for which the Kennebunk 21 have been summonsed -- engaging a prostitute – is a financial transaction that occurred before anyone's privacy was allegedly invaded. Warren could release the usual information about the charges without getting anywhere near what happened next.

The court can't stop people from being embarrassed in a case like this, but it should at least try make sure it's just the right ones who get embarrassed.

 

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