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Appeals court affirms release of 'black book'

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Appeals court affirms release of ‘black book’

  • The Maryland Court of Special Appeals upheld a ruling ordering the city of Frederick to publicly release a “black book” that identifies patrons of a prostitution ring.

Feb. 3, 2004 — The Maryland Court of Special Appeals last week upheld a court order requiring the city of Frederick, Md., to release a “black book” that names customers of a local brothel raided by police in 1999.

Angelika Potter, the madam, agreed to a plea bargain agreement and pleaded guilty in November 2000 to operating a brothel, a misdemeanor. She was fined $100. As part of the agreement, the city was to return to Potter all documents taken during the raid.

The Frederick News-Post asked for copies of the records a week later under the Maryland Public Information Act. The Associated Press and Frederick County resident Daniel Trey later filed similar freedom of information requests. The city refused, citing an investigative-records exemption to the act that shields certain police investigatory files from public view.

Henry Abrams, counsel for the News-Post, said the public should have access to the documents because they “may shed light on a major scheme of government and police misconduct.”

In November 2001, a Circuit Court judge in Frederick ruled that the city must disclose the documents. That decision was appealed to the Court of Special Appeals, which upheld the order Jan. 28.

“Admittedly, revelation of the names listed in the black book might embarrass Ms. Potter’s customers,” wrote Judge James Salmon. “But the invasion of their privacy in this way cannot be characterized as ‘unwarranted’ when balanced against the public’s right to know and evaluate information of this sort.”

Abrams called Salmon’s ruling “a tour de force affirming First Amendment principles.”

Critics of former Mayor James Grimes’s administration claim the plea agreement was made to hide the names of public officials and other high-profile citizens who were patrons of Potter’s brothel. The only official thus far publicly named has been former Alderman Blaine Young, who acknowledged hiring Potter’s employees to dance at parties.

The city has also until March 13 to ask Maryland’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, to hear the case.

(City of Frederick v. Randall Family LLC t/a The Frederick News Post, et. al.; Media Counsel: Henry R. Abrams, Saul Ewing LLP, Baltimore) AB

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© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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