Alleged D.C. madam can distribute records

Friday, July 6, 2007

WASHINGTON — A woman accused of running a prostitution ring in the nation’s capital is free to distribute thousands of pages of phone records after a federal judge’s ruling yesterday.

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler’s order granted the request of Deborah Jeane Palfrey, 51, of Vallejo, Calif., to quash restrictions by government prosecutors that had prohibited her from giving away the list of telephone numbers.

“As a result, Jeane has determined to release those records under certain conditions to qualified individuals or organizations,” wrote her attorney, Montgomery Blair Sibley, in an e-mail.

Palfrey and her attorney have said the list contains up to 15,000 names and could shake up Washington by revealing high-profile individuals.

Prosecutors had won two temporary restraining orders to prevent her from distributing the list, first to preserve its availability, and then to prevent the harassment of potential witnesses through its distribution.

But prosecutors’ arguments did not hold up, the judge ruled. The availability of the list is not in jeopardy, and it was not seized or listed with her other assets that were subject to forfeiture, Kessler wrote.

Freezing “the personal property of an individual, not yet convicted of any crime” would be an extraordinary step, the requirements of which government prosecutors failed to satisfy, the judge wrote.

Kessler also rejected prosecutors’ arguments that Palfrey should not be allowed to “exploit the fruits of her allegedly illegal enterprise.”

“But where, as here, the fruits of such an enterprise consist of factual information, and the Government is emphatic that it is not seeking to ‘gag’ the Defendant and that she can use and disseminate the actual information, then restraining her from disseminating copies of the List itself cannot logically achieve the Government’s stated objective.”

Palfrey’s attorney had argued that restraining orders such as those sought by the government were prohibited by the First Amendment.

Kessler noted in a footnote that barring “dissemination of such factual information would, indeed, raise First Amendment issues” but, she said, “in light of the Court’s disposition, (such issues) need not be addressed at this time.”

Palfrey is facing federal racketeering and conspiracy charges for running what she says was a legal escort service. Prosecutors say the business netted more than $2 million from 1993 to 2006.

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