Identifying ‘johns’ fair in Kennebunk case

As part of the ongoing and outstanding coverage by our sister publication the York County Coast Star, on Tuesday the Portsmouth Herald published the names of the first 21 men charged with engaging the services of alleged prostitute and Kennebunk, Maine, Zumba studio owner Alexis Wright.

Their names appeared in an online version of the story soon after the Kennebunk Police Department released them late Monday afternoon. Police are releasing the names, from what is rumored to be a client list of more than 100 individuals, as those clients are summonsed into court on the misdemeanor charge of engaging a prostitute, and the Herald will publish all those names as they become available.

Wright, 29, of Wells, Maine, and her alleged pimp, Mark Strong, 57, of Thomaston, Maine, have been indicted on numerous charges. Wright faces 106 counts, including prostitution, tax evasion and invasion of privacy. Strong was indicted on 59 counts, including promotion of prostitution.

According to court documents, Wright had sex with clients for money, and she and Strong conspired to videotape the encounters without the clients’ knowledge.

The release of some alleged clients’ names came Monday after attorneys made three failed attempts to convince judges that reputations would be damaged if identities were revealed.

Portland attorney Stephen Schwartz, representing two alleged clients, said in court filings that “severe and completely irreparable harm” to families and personal and professional relationships would result. The men would, said Schwartz, carry a “scarlet letter.”

There are those of our readers who may agree with Schwartz; certainly, we have heard the claim that the men who engaged in sex acts with Wright should be protected for the sake of their families.

While we can appreciate the sentiment, we say in response that the men should have considered those same families before allegedly having sex with a prostitute.

There is also a question of fairness: What makes it OK to print the name of someone charged with drunken driving but not with engaging a prostitute?

The fact is, our country’s judicial system is based on free and unfettered public access to proceedings. In only the rarest of cases, such as when the defendant is a child, is that right tempered. That is why Schwartz’s appeals have failed, and should have failed.

In his order Monday, Cumberland County Superior Court Judge Thomas Warren wrote, “The need to protect criminal defendants’ rights to a fair trial and to protect citizens against unwarranted invasions of privacy does not extend to protecting the identity of persons who have been charged with criminal offenses and summoned to appear in court.”

Because many of Wright’s encounters were secretly videotaped, Warren ruled Monday that only the names and not the ages or addresses of those men who are also alleged victims of a criminal offense be released.

Fortunately, he reversed that portion of his ruling Wednesday. Monday’s ruling was creating havoc for some men who have the same name as men on the list but who were innocent. Now, such unintended consequences will be eliminated.

The names being released aren’t arbitrarily selected or unvetted in this newspaper or the York County Coast Star. They are the result of many months of painstaking police work by multiple agencies.

All of the people whose names appear on the list of those charged will have their day in court, and we will document the progress of those cases as they unfold.

– Portsmouth Herald