Oh, me. Oh, my. Heads are spinning in Kennebunk, Maine. Townspeople are sniggering about just who is on the list of clients snagged when police arrested Wells resident Alexis Wright and charged her with prostitution, tax evasion and invasion of privacy. It turns out the 29-year-old fitness instructor is believed to have video-recorded some intimate moments. I am betting that there is a run on the services of cardiologists and divorce lawyers in the surrounding area; plenty of Johns are preparing for questions about just what muscles they were exercising at Ms. Wright’s studio.
Just why we criminalize prostitution in this country is a mystery to me. I could not care less about whether Ms. Wright is using her exercise studio as the a libidinal fantasy island. If consenting adults are desperate enough to pay for sex, then let them, I say. It is not as though we don’t use sexuality as an advertising tool for products ranging toothpaste to cars. What’s the harm in a little honesty?
Local police were set to release the list of Johns when a lawyer believed to represent two of the libidinal warriors filed an emergency writ to block publication. Maine’s Supreme Court is expected to rule as early as next week on whether to keep secret the list of names.
There is little basis in law for keeping the names confidential. It is against the law in Maine, as it is in most places in the United States, to patronize a prostitute. Local police have begun to issue summons to Ms. Wright’s clients charging them with engaging a woman of the night.
Police officers often evoke a law enforcement privilege against disclosure of information regarding an ongoing police investigation. In such cases, a court may keep from public view any information that might shed light on the activities of police prior to completion of an investigation. Typically, it is the police who evoke this privilege, not interested third parties who may or may not face arrest.
What a contrast to the case of Anna Gristina, a client of mine, in Manhattan. The District Attorney’s office in the Big Apple went on the record accusing her of running a multi-million brothel for many years. Yet the sole count for which she was arrested resulted from a sting operation in which an undercover police officer paid for what amounted to a live peep show. No "customers" were ever identified in a public record; indeed, in the course of the prosecution, the People never disclosed the name of anyone every believed to cavort for pay. Neither did evidence of the millions my client was alleged to have made ever surface. It was a sexless prostitution prosecution, this in the city that never sleeps.
I’ll never know why Manhattan prosecutors made Gristina out to be the Queen of Tarts and then failed to produce evidence that she did more than take a cop’s marked money for a tryst. My hunch they wanted her to name names. She didn’t.
They do things differently in Maine, I suspect: Both the honey pot and the beys get busted.
Tongues are wagging up and down the East Cost tonight about who is on the Kennebunk list. We received a call today from no less an outfit that the ABC Evening News about the case. Rumor has it police officers, politicians, lawyers and other prominent men were visiting Ms. Wright’s fitness studio to exercise muscles best flexed in private and at home. Why are we so crazy about sex?
"We believe very strongly that their names ought not to be released. The mere releasing of their names will have devastating consequences in a case ... the government ... will have great difficulty proving," the lawyer for the suspect Johns, Stephen Schwartz claims.
Schwartz has a point. Ms. Wright, and the suspect Johns, are all presumed innocent unless and until they are proven guilty. The names of those alleging to be victims of sex crimes typically remain confidential to protect them from the scandal associated with victimization. What justification is there for broadcasting the names of those presumed innocent? None. It is mere titillation for the sake of titillation, and it makes a mockery of the presumption of innocence.
I’m rooting for Ms. Wright. All Hell’s going to break lose in Kennebunk, and soon.
One editorialist at least had the courage to put it bluntly: Jerry Sandusky deserves 400 years in prison. The writer was outraged that the 68-year-old man received a sentence of only 30-60 years in prison after his conviction on 45 counts of child molestation. Sandusky is, so the writer contends, a monster.
I wonder whether another monster isn’t the person calling for a prison sentence impossible to serve. Find me the man or woman who can serve a 400-year sentence, and I will rethink my general skepticism about miracles.
We love prison in this the land of the free. The United States accounts for five percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the world’s prison population. Put another way, we incarcerate more people per capita than any other nation on Earth.
And prison sentences in the United States are draconian when compared to those in other post-industrial nations. Anders Behring Breivik of Norway went on a rampage on Norway in the summer of 2011, killing nearly 70 people, most of them teenagers. Norwegians were not reported to be up in arms when Mr. Breivik was sentenced to prison for a term of 21 years after being found guilty of the crimes. Such a sentence for so horrible an offense would not be conceivable in the United States.
Why are we in the embrace of this love affair with prison?
I recall standing in the well of a federal court one day years ago. My client was found guilty of murder-for-hire. The Government had not elected to seek the death penalty, although it was a capital felony. But it did want him in prison for the rest of his life. The judge obliged.
She did more than oblige, in fact. As she imposed sentence it became clear that she wanted to stack multiple life terms, one on top of the other, imposing them consecutive to one another. As she piled the second life term on top of the first, or was it the third on top of the second, I turned to the client.
“You know what this means, don’t you?”
He looked at me with a puzzled look, afraid to speak as the judge was talking.
“This means the first couple of times you die, the Government has to revive you or the sentence is illegal.”
We both chuckled at the absurdity of it all as the judge went about her work. She paused to shoot a severe look our way, but what, really, could she do?
(The client was stabbed to death in prison not long ago. The Government did not revive him. The unserved portion of his sentence hangs in the ether somewhere, confounding those who think the sentence imposed was fair, just and reasonable.)
We are perhaps too quick to ostracize the errant. Do we really believe that a man or woman is simply the some of their worst moments? Do any of us really believe that we are without sin? I’ve yet to meet the man or woman accused of a crime who did not possess a distinctive human spark.
Aristotle counseled moderation in all things, even in anger. It is appropriate to be angry to the right degree, at the right things, at the right time. The Christians recognize anger as one of the seven deadly sins. We self-righteous harpies calling for savage criminal sentences are sometimes hardly distinguishable from the folks we lock up.
Jerry Sandusky is a child molester. The protection of society requires his isolation. He will spend the rest of his life enduring the punishment his conduct warrants. I get that. But somehow complaining that the man will either drop dead in prison or, perhaps, walk out the prison’s doors at 98 years or age strikes me as downright perverse, even sick.
We’re the land of the free but we’re in love with prisons. Instead of embracing our contradictions, we flee in fear from facing them. Some City on a Hill we’ve created here in paradise.
Reprinted courtesy of the Connecticut Law Tribune.