Judge reverses decision, allows release of more info on alleged johns

A sign is seen near a marina in Kennebunk on Oct. 12, 2012. Alexis Wright, 29,  is accused of operating a prostitution business out of her Zumba studio in Kennebunk, secretly videotaping her encounters and keeping meticulous records of her clients. Police plan to release more than 100 names little by little over the next several weeks. The warning has set off a flurry of rumors among residents who say they’'ve heard the list might include lawyers, doctors, law enforcement officials and a television personality.
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
A sign is seen near a marina in Kennebunk on Oct. 12, 2012. Alexis Wright, 29, is accused of operating a prostitution business out of her Zumba studio in Kennebunk, secretly videotaping her encounters and keeping meticulous records of her clients. Police plan to release more than 100 names little by little over the next several weeks. The warning has set off a flurry of rumors among residents who say they’'ve heard the list might include lawyers, doctors, law enforcement officials and a television personality.
Posted Oct. 16, 2012, at 5:34 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 16, 2012, at 9:53 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — A Superior Court judge Tuesday afternoon reversed his decision and allowed the release of information identifying the men charged with engaging a prostitute in the high-profile Kennebunk prostitution case.

Shortly afterward, at about 5:30 p.m., the Kennebunk Police Department released ages and addresses to go along with the list of 21 names of alleged johns issued Monday.

Cumberland County Superior Court Justice Thomas Warren issued a simple ruling Tuesday afternoon that vacated a temporary restraining order he had issued the day before preventing the release of addresses of those already charged by the Kennebunk Police Department. Warren rejected the remaining requests by an attorney for two men identified as John Doe No. 1 and John Doe No. 2 who had sought to stop the release of their names.

Not long after the ruling, Kennebunk Police Department Lt. Anthony Bean Burpee released the names and identifying information. He also issued a statement with the list stating that the names of other individuals summoned in the case would be “released in the regular semiweekly Kennebunk Police Department report in accordance with the Department’s regular practice of updating its ‘police blotter.’”

The next release is expected to be issued on Oct. 26, he said.

“Moreover, please be mindful of the presumption of innocence under the law,” wrote Bean Burpee. “A summons is not a conviction; it is only a charge. No one should pass judgment prematurely on those to whom a summons is issued.”

Police and attorneys involved in the case previously have said the alleged prostitution business in Kennebunk could have catered to more than 100 potential clients.

The Bangor Daily News did not publish the names of those charged with engaging a prostitute until their identities were clear. Without residences and ages, several of the names on the list could correspond to multiple men.

Bean Burpee had explained in a previous statement that “In keeping with the Superior Court’s ruling, the Kennebunk Police Department has been directed to release only the names of certain persons issued summonses and to withhold addresses, to include hometowns and states of residency, as some may also be alleged victims of criminal invasion of privacy. While the Superior Court ruling does not address the issue of ages being released for those who have been issued summonses, doing so would contribute to the identification of alleged victims of criminal invasion of privacy.”

Each of the men has been charged with engaging a prostitute, a Class E misdemeanor punishable by a fine.

On Tuesday, the BDN filed a freedom of access request with the Kennebunk Police Department asking for all summonses issued in the last 30 days to those charged with engaging a prostitute and all records indicating the full names and ages of those issued summonses.

The department forwarded the request to its attorneys William Dale and Patricia Dunn.

A southern Maine newspaper also filed a motion in Cumberland County to intervene in the John Doe cases to challenge the judge’s ruling. After agreeing to an expedited hearing, Justice Warren issued a two-sentence ruling Tuesday afternoon simply vacating the temporary restraining order he had approved earlier. There was no explanation given.

At least two men whose names match those on the list had complained Monday and Tuesday about how the names had been released to that point.

Former York County Deputy and sheriff candidate Paul Main told WCSH on Monday that he hasn’t been charged, and seeing his name on the list made him “very upset.”

“When I first saw my name on the computer I laughed,” Main told the Portland television station. “And then as I got up to walk out, I’m thinking to myself [about] all my years in law enforcement, all my years, activities with children, coaching baseball, the young men that I know who are now dads today and responsible citizens — this is very misleading and I don’t think it’s fair.”

Another Maine man whose name is the same as one that appears on the list said Tuesday “it sure as heck ain’t me” who was charged as a john.

“I’m 86 years old,” he said. “I haven’t been to Kennebunk in 40 years.”

Warren’s decision Monday to order the names released while withholding other identifying information, such as their addresses, made sense under Maine law, according to a University of Maine School of Law professor.

“Judge Warren’s order was completely appropriate for the issues raised,” said professor E. James Burke.

Warren’s ruling was on a motion filed by attorney Stephen Schwartz of Portland who argued that both the names and other identifying information about his clients — identified only as John Doe No. 1 and John Doe No. 2 — should not be released.

Burke agreed that the linchpin of Schwartz’s successful argument was that his clients also were victims of invasion of privacy because, according to police, they were secretly videotaped while having sex with a prostitute. As victims of a crime themselves, the men thus also benefit from state laws designed to protect the identity of victims, Schwartz argued.

“That was very inventive, good lawyering by Steve Schwartz,” Burke said. “He was doing exactly what his client wanted in an incredibly uphill battle.”

Burke added, however, that when the defendants appear in court their identities will be known. He said they also may be called as witnesses.

“There are tons of ways for them to be identified and few to keep them private,” the professor said.

State prosecutors have accused Thomaston businessman Mark W. Strong Sr. and Kennebunk fitness instructor Alexis Wright of running a prostitution operation out of Wright’s Zumba studio.

Strong, 57, of Thomaston was indicted early this month on 59 counts, which include promotion of prostitution, invasion of privacy, and conspiracy; and Alexis Wright, 29, of Wells was indicted on 106 counts, including charges of engaging in prostitution, violation of privacy and failure to pay taxes.

The Superior Court motion filed by Schwartz also sought to permanently prevent the district attorney’s office from prosecuting Wright’s alleged clients. Schwartz argued that the amount of harm inflicted on the alleged johns would outweigh the necessity to prosecute such a low-level offense.

“The state’s interest in prosecuting the low-level offense of engaging a prostitute is not outweighed by the invasion of privacy that will inure to plaintiffs if the prosecution proceeds,” the motion stated.

BDN writer Seth Koenig contributed to this report.

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