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Publication of prostitution ring’s records awaits appeal

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         MARYLAND         Freedom of Information         Nov 29, 2001    

Publication of prostitution ring’s records awaits appeal

  • The Frederick News-Post won the right to view records listing alleged clients of an illegal escort service in a Maryland city, but is also subject to a court order that it withhold the names of private citizens.

After months of grappling in court, The Frederick News-Post succeeded in gaining access in early November to records once kept by Angelika Potter, an escort service owner who pleaded guilty in November 2000 to running a prostitution ring in Frederick, Md.

Editors and staff members of both the newspaper and the Associated Press began poring over computer disks and paper documents removed from storage and handed over to the News-Post on Nov. 7, following a partial summary judgment ruling in its favor from a Frederick County Circuit Court judge.

But several actions are still pending regarding the records, said Henry Abrams, attorney for the newspaper and the Associated Press. He said that those organizations plan to challenge Judge G. Edward Dwyer’s order stating that names of private citizens contained in the records cannot be published by the newspaper.

“When the court granted summary judgment, it said we could only publish the names of public figures and public officials,” Abrams said. “We believe that is an unconstitutional prior restraint.”

“We definitely look forward to publishing something,” said News-Post managing editor Mike Powell.

According to Powell, the News-Post plans to publish only the names of public officials and public figures included in the list, but he said the court should not force that consideration on the newspaper. The News-Post is completing its survey of the records and awaiting an opinion from the circuit court appeal before going public with names, Powell said.

“The public has a right to know what the people they elected are doing, and this includes any relationships they had with an escort service,” he said.

The News-Post twice published the name of a Frederick alderman whose name was found in Potter’s records. The Associated Press also published the man’s name in a report.

The News-Post first requested access to the book of names after Potter received probation and a $100 fine upon pleading guilty to running the Corporate Affair Referral Service. In November 2000, city officials denied the request under an exception to the Maryland Public Information Act for investigative records.

In December 2000, the News-Post and the Associated Press appealed the denial in circuit court. Frederick’s Mayor James Grimes eventually ordered the book of names, seized by police as part of an investigation into Potter’s actions, be returned to Potter’s attorney, who shredded substantial portions of the madam’s “black book” the following day, prompting Abrams to file a request for an emergency injunction freezing all action until the news agencies’ appeal could be processed.

The court gave the records to the news agencies with the order not to publish private citizens’ names.

(Randall Family LLC, t.a. The Frederick News-Post v. City of Frederick; Media Counsel: Henry Abrams, Baltimore) GR

© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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