The scene outside Biddeford District Court today as three men entered pleas in the Kennebunk Zumba prostitution case.
Aside from the media and the alleged "johns," there was one other person who showed up at Biddeford District Court: "My name is Sara Moon."
Moon stood outside the courthouse holding a bright pink poster that said in black letters, "Decriminalize Sex."
"Because I feel like that we need to decriminalize the body and legalize sex," Moon says. "I don't think this should be newsworthy. I don't think anybody should be getting fined or going to jail for having sex. I think what I do with my body and what they do with their bodies, whatever that is for money, that's fine with me and it shouldn't be illegal."
But it is illegal. And so, inside the court, the defendants were called one by one to enter their pleas. One man hung his head while pleading guilty. The second pleaded guilty after consulting with a court lawyer. And the third pleaded "nolo," which the court interprets as a guilty plea without the defendant admitting guilt or innocence.
Afterward, the man - who declined to go on tape - said he just wanted to put this all behind him for the sake of his daughter. But 18 others facing charges are preparing for more of a fight. They have entered "not guilty" pleas.
"And one of the reasons for that is because we want to preserve our clients' right to jury trial," says Tim Zerillo, who represents three clients in the Kennebunk prostitution case. Zerillo says this is typical in misdemeanor cases because it's often impossible to know early in the game - when lawyers don't have all the evidence in hand - what will be best for clients.
The question remains how many other defendants will make the same request, and what effect it will have on the courts. Attorney Stephen Schwartz, who is representing nine people in the case, says it could be significant.
"You know, if dozens of people are all of a sudden on a jury trial list, I think it would take months and months, and well more than a year, it seems to me, before all of the cases were able to be tried," Schwartz says. "So in that regard, I think there is a risk that it could clog up the system."
Schwartz and other attorneys say clogging the system is not their intent. It's ultimately up to their clients whether to go with a jury trial. It's a personal decision, says attorney Tim Zerillo, and he thinks it's unlikely many will choose that route because of the attention it would generate.
"This is somewhere in the realm between a drunk driving charge and a speeding ticket, is where engaging a prostitute falls," Zerillo says. "These guys are being punished by virtue of their names being in the paper and in the news, much more than what would normally be punished for this type of case."
Even if cases don't go to jury, the courts will be busy dealing with various motions attorneys may file on behalf of their clients. Attorney Stephen Schwartz says at this point, everything is on the table for how these cases will proceed.
"I've heard that most of the York County judges have recused themselves, based on their proximity to the cases geographically, if nothing else," Schwatz says. "So there are lots of different possibilities with respect to the dispositiion of what I believe will amount to dozens and dozens of cases that are going to be coming up to Superior Court."
The next court date for those charged in the prostitution case is December 19th.
Photo by Patty Wight.