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Kennebunk Prostitution Case Puts Maine Newsrooms in Quandary
10/10/2012   Reported By: Patty B. Wight

The list of clients associated with an alleged prostitution business in Kennebunk is generating as much attention as the case itself. That's because the names on that list - over 100 of them - will inevitably become public, and that could have damaging consequences for associated family members. As Patty Wight reports, many newsrooms are grappling with the question of when - and if - to publish those names.

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It's unclear whether the list of clients will become public before the case goes to trial. Prosecutors and defense attorneys have the names, though none have released them and no one seems eager to do so. Some police have the information as well, though Kennebunk Lt. Anthony Bean Burpee says client names will only become public as they are each charged.

"I mean there are a number of factors we need to go to in order to find probable cause to charge somebody," he says. "So if we don't have the evidence to be able to charge somebody, then we can't do that legally."

Bean Burpee says police started to issue summonses last Friday, but they don't become public until paperwork is filed with the courts. The editor of the York County Coast Star Laura Dolce. says she expects to see the first client names this Friday in a weekly press release from the Kennebunk Police Department.

Dolce says for decades, the York County Coast Star has published names in the police blotter without any exceptions. But this particular case has generated hours of newsroom discussion about what to do. The verdict? They will publish the names of those charged.

"You know, we can't decide to cherry pick who we're going to put in the blotter based on how damaging it might be to them, or this person might be hurt more than this person," she says." Then we open ourselves up to a lot of legal issues. So, you know, we felt the best way is to put it out there, the same way we would put out records of any other people charged with a crime."

Just as Dolce says her paper is following past protocol, other newsrooms are doing the same. Mimi Strawn is news director for WGME 13. She says the station will usually report people charged with a crime, though it's difficult to know exactly what they will do in this case without knowing who is on the list.

"It's a news story, so we would treat this news story as we would treat any other news story," Strawn says.

The possible wrinkle is that one of the case's defense attorneys, Dan Lilley, has said the client names include prominent figures like lawyers, law enforcement and a television personality.

Following past protocol meets the ethical standards of the Poynter Institute journalism school. Kelly McBride is a senior faculty member who has advised some Maine news outlets about this case. She says the decision to report criminal charges, especially with misdemeanors like prostitution, usually need to meet a certain threshold, such as whether the person is prominent in some way.

After considering standard practice, McBride says she gives newsrooms one more piece of advice: "The second thing that I tell newsrooms is you should never, ever, ever publish a charge against someone unless you have the capacity to publish the outcome of that charge."

This is a rule that newsrooms violate all the time, says McBride. She says many - if not most - misdemeanor crimes end with convictions that are very different from the initial charges. She says most newsrooms that publish police blotters don't report the outcome of those cases.

Laura Dolce from the York County Coast Star says her paper doesn't have the manpower to follow up on every case. "We're kind of evolving how we're going to handle this," she says. "I suspect that this is a case that we will follow through to its conclusion."

While newsrooms may follow certain standards for whose names to publish and when, Kelly McBride from Poynter says the client list will likely end up on the Internet at some point - at the very least, when it becomes a court document.

As for MPBN's policy, we will provide a link on our Web site to the names of people charged in the case when that information becomes public.


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