A Florida judge handed Robert Kraft a short-term victory Tuesday when the surveillance video of the Patriots owner allegedly paying for and engaging in a sex act at a Jupiter spa was ordered sealed until his trial has begun or the case is otherwise adjudicated.
Kraft, 77, is charged with two misdemeanor counts of soliciting prostitution at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in January in Palm Beach County, Florida. He has denied engaging in any illegal activity, pleaded not guilty and requested a jury trial.
Palm Beach County Judge Leonard Hanser, in granting the protective order sought by Kraft’s legal team, wrote in a 10-page ruling (via USA Today) that “making these images public, at this time, seriously jeopardizes Defendant’s fundamental right to a fair and impartial jury.”
“Furthermore,” Hanser wrote, “the Court is seriously concerned about allowing the media to disclose to the public a piece of evidence that would be (or could be) central to the case against defendant. In effect, the potential jury pool would be given the opportunity to preview trial evidence, including identifying (Kraft) as the person depicted in the video tapes.”
Prosecutors in Palm Beach County said in court papers last week that they are obligated under Florida law to release police surveillance videos of Kraft and 24 other men allegedly paying for and engaging in sex at the spa.
Kraft and more than a dozen of the men charged in the case had asked Hanser to issue a protective order blocking the public release of the videos. Attorneys for multiple media organizations had sought their release under Florida’s open-records law.
In a hearing before Hanser, Kraft defense attorney William Burck questioned the need to release the videos, especially given that already public affidavits from Jupiter police provided a detailed account of what they allege transpired between Kraft and women on Jan. 19 and 20.
“The only possible reason to release it is to get eyeballs and clicks” on media websites from people seeking to watch individuals “engaging potentially in sexual conduct,” Burck told Hanser.
“It is basically pornography, your honor,” Burck said of the videos.
Last week, Judge Joseph Marx issued a temporary protective order to keep the video footage from being released until Hanser made his ruling.
“I may be on shaky rounds, media, but right is right,” Marx said in a conference call last Wednesday, via ESPN. “To have this happen without a judge passing judgment on it is just wrong.”
State attorney Dave Aronberg’s office argued the videos must be released in relation to cases against two women — Lei Wang and Hua Zhang — who are accused of owning and managing the alleged house of prostitution the men visited.
Kraft’s and Wang’s attorneys asked the judge to bar release of the videos while their criminal cases are pending. Prosecutors said in court papers they cannot wait, under state sunshine laws.
Prosecutors, “as the custodian of the records, cannot delay the release of records to allow a person to raise a constitutional challenge to the release of the documents,’’ Aronberg’s office wrote last week. “The Public Records Act does not allow a custodian to delay the production of records to allow the resolution of a constitutional challenge to the release of the documents.”
Beyond preventing the video from becoming public, Kraft’s attorneys also have argued to keep the video from being admitted as evidence in his trial, claiming that Kraft’s rights were violated when authorities obtained the warrant that allowed the secret videotaping of Kraft and others inside the spa.