October 26, 2012

Release of 'the list' on hold for now

Authorities will not make public alleged prostitution client names before the state's highest court has ruled.

By Ann S. Kim akim@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – A last-minute attempt to prevent the release of the names of Zumba instructor Alexis Wright's alleged "johns" has succeeded -- at least for a while.

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Alexis Wright leaves the courtroom on Tuesday after her arraignment at the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland. She entered a plea of not guilty to 109 counts including prostitution and tax evasion charges.

Tim Greenway / Staff Photographer

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The suspected clients got the reprieve Friday, the day police had been expected to release a list of names of individuals charged with the misdemeanor offense of engaging a prostitute. Authorities will not make the names public before the state's highest court acts on an appeal filed by two of the alleged clients.

"It will be our last attempt. That's our last best hope," said their attorney, Stephen Schwartz.

Another defense lawyer representing accused prostitution clients filed a separate motion late Friday seeking to keep the names private for different reasons.

The flurry of activity began late Thursday afternoon as Schwartz filed a motion for a temporary restraining order in Biddeford District Court. The action against Maine State Police Chief Robert Williams, Kennebunk Police Chief Robert Mackenzie, York County District Attorney Kathryn Slattery and state Attorney General William Schneider sought to prevent them from making public the names of any of Wright's clients -- even those who had been charged.

Kennebunk police had been expected to include the names of the first group of clients served with summonses in a police blotter news release distributed to the media Friday.

Speculation about Wright's alleged clients had been fueled by the existence of records authorities say they found during searches of her home in Wells and her fitness studio and office space in Kennebunk. The records -- which have come to be known as "the list" -- include more than 150 names and feature some prominent figures, according to individuals familiar with it.

District Court Judge Andr?anelle quickly denied Schwartz's motion, writing that the names of those charged is public information.

"While it is the role of the judiciary to protect the rights of each individual appearing in court and to take measures to insure that a criminal defendant obtains a fair trial, the judiciary's role in protecting a defendant's rights does not extend to shielding the identity of an adult criminal defendant who has been charged by criminal complaint and summoned to appear in court," Janelle wrote in his order entered Friday morning.

Schwartz subsequently filed requests for an appeal at the District Court level, an expedited hearing and a stay pending an appeal to a higher court. Janelle denied them all.

Schwartz then filed a notice of appeal to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court late Friday afternoon.

"We think there's a really important principle at stake here: These people are presumed innocent. Once these names are released, they're all going to have the mark of a scarlet letter, if you will," Schwartz told reporters outside Biddeford District Court after filing the notice.

Among Schwartz' arguments are that the release of the names would prejudice a jury, that the "johns" are also alleged victims of invasion of privacy by Wright and Mark Strong Sr., her alleged business partner, and that the state will have a hard time convicting his clients without the testimony of Wright, who has a Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.

Schwartz said the supreme court will have to weigh the transparency of government administration and freedom of the press versus the rights of people accused of crimes. "I think we have an uphill battle," he said.

(Continued on page 2)

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