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Maine newspapers object to 'exceedingly broad' protective order

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Two Maine newspapers filed an objection Friday to a proposed protective order in a prostitution case that would prevent the…

Two Maine newspapers filed an objection Friday to a proposed protective order in a prostitution case that would prevent the discussion and dissemination of evidence and progress of the case.

The Portland Press Herald and York County Coast Star are objecting to an order that would limit the disclosure of information obtained by the defense during discovery and the ability of the lawyers to talk to the media about the case against Mark Strong, who is charged with promotion of prostitution. Maine Assistant Attorney General Gregg Bernstein requested the order.

“This is a high-profile case involving a prostitution prosecution, and there’s intense public interest not only in the case but in a list of ‘johns’ that were patrons of the alleged prostitution service,” the newspapers' lawyer Sigmund Schutz said in an interview. “The press has been following the case closely, and there have been statements by the criminal defense lawyer that some patrons are high-profile individuals in southern Maine, so there’s a lot of questions about who those people might be.”

Bernstein filed the motion after the Press Herald published an article that included the defense's description of evidence, including the client list.

Justice Joyce Wheeler, who presided over the case until she recused herself for undisclosed reasons, prohibited the parties from disseminating information about the case until a decision is made about the proposed order.

In a letter to the York County Superior Court, Schutz argues that the prosecution does not have “good cause,” the standard for issuance of a protective order in Maine. In addition, the scope of the proposed order is exceedingly broad, and it contains no limits on its duration, according to the newspapers’ objection.

The defense has also filed a motion objecting to the proposal, which seeks to limit prejudicial pretrial publicity in the case.

“This objection is an attempt to ensure that we don’t have confidential proceedings in criminal cases in Maine,” Schutz said. “It’s not something that gets litigated often, so this decision could set a precedent in Maine.”

A decision on whether to grant the protective order and on what terms should be made relatively soon, Schutz said.

Related Reporters Committee resources:

· The First Amendment Handbook: Introduction — Fair trials — National security — Law enforcement investigations