Release of names in prostitution case stirs debate
Kennebunk, Maine - Paul Main's quiet evening was shattered by a phone ringing off the hook and a half-dozen TV crews showing up on his porch. Everyone wanted to know: Was he the same Paul Main who's been accused of visiting a prostitute in Kennebunk?
The answer was no. But a decision to release the names of alleged prostitution clients without any ages or addresses has caused big problems for men who have the same names as the accused.
For weeks, rumors about a prostitution business have run rampant in this small New England town best known for its proximity to the Bush family summer compound in neighboring Kennebunkport.
On Monday, authorities released the first batch of names out of more than 150 men accused of paying a Zumba fitness instructor for sex.
"I don't have a problem with releasing names. I think it's a wonderful thing, but I'll be darned if it's right to do it in a shoddy manner," said Main, a retired spokesman and head of the detective division for the York County Sheriff's Department.
The addresses, ages and other identifying information of the johns were withheld after a judge ruled that state law required them to be kept confidential because the alleged sexual encounters may have been videotaped, making the men potential victims of privacy invasion.
On Tuesday, Superior Court Justice Thomas Warren reversed his decision, ruling in favor of a request from The Portland Press Herald newspaper that sought the release of the addresses and other information.
Kennebunk police re-issued the names with the added details. The revised list included former South Portland Mayor James Soule and suspects from more than a dozen towns in Maine, as well as one from Boston and another from New Hampshire. The men ranged in age from 34 to 65 and also included a lawyer, a forester and a real estate appraiser.
Soule did not return calls to his home and business, and no one answered door at his home.
Before the extra information was released, the lack of addresses and dates of birth made it impossible to verify exactly who was among the accused. Most records released by police and courts have that information.
The Associated Press declined to distribute the names until the suspects' precise identities could be confirmed. None of those who have matching names returned calls.
But many media outlets released the first list, causing problems for men like Main, whose name is shared by at least 20 others in Maine alone.
The town had been awaiting the release of the list since 29-year-old Alexis Wright was charged this month with engaging in prostitution in her dance studio and in an office across the street and secretly videotaping many of her encounters. Police said she kept meticulous records suggesting the sex acts generated $150,000 over 18 months.
Wright, from nearby Wells, has pleaded not guilty to 106 counts of prostitution and other charges. Her business partner also pleaded not guilty to 59 counts.
Police released the first 21 names Monday evening. The list was then revised to include the men's middle initials. Main's middle initial was different from the Paul Main who was listed.
Stephen Schwartz, a Portland lawyer who represents two of Wright's alleged customers, argued that the names and addresses of the alleged johns should be kept private.
Warren declined to keep the names secret but at first agreed with Schwartz's contention that if persons charged with paying a prostitute are also possible victims of invasion of privacy, then their addresses should be confidential under Maine law.
Press Herald attorney Sigmund Schutz argued Tuesday that releasing only partial information was unfair to people not on the list.
"The fact is that by releasing names only, you're getting a lot of false positives. You're implicating people who may be completely innocent and simply share the same or similar names with people charged, and that's a real harm," Schutz told the AP.
In southern Maine, two TV stations, one daily newspaper and a weekly newspaper published the list. Several others, including newspapers in Maine's three largest cities, withheld the names.
Roy Peter Clark, senior scholar at the Poynter Institute, a Florida-based journalism think tank, said that just because a name becomes public doesn't mean news organizations have to race to publish it.
"What journalistic purpose is served by publishing the name, and how do you balance that against the harm that may be done to these people, their families, their children?"
Clark said the situation would be different if the name of a public figure appeared.
"If the police chief is on the list, if the school superintendent on the list, I would approach those people directly and try to determine whether their actions are not just a personal moral failure but climb to the level of social, public hypocrisy," he said.
The Kennebunk Police Department plans to release the names of johns who've received summonses on a bi-weekly activity log, meaning the disclosure of names could continue until the end of the year. The next batch is due to be released Oct. 26.
As a former law enforcement officer, Main said releasing the names helps hold suspects accountable for their misdeeds. But, he added, other information should be released as well to protect those whose only connection to the case is having a common name.
"I don't want to see other people going through the same thing that I've been through," he said.
Associated Press writers David Sharp in Portland and Glenn Adams in Augusta contributed to this report.
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