Judge Halts Release of Video in Kraft Solicitation Case

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft walks on the field before the AFC Championship NFL football game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the New England Patriots on Jan. 20, 2019. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CN) – Extinguishing a veritable media frenzy Wednesday, a Florida judge temporarily blocked the release of video that police claim shows New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft being sexually pleasured by a spa worker.

Media outlets across the country had been buzzing all day over Palm Beach County prosecutors’ announcement that they planned to release undercover police footage allegedly showing the wealthy businessman and NFL team owner engaged in sexual activity at the now-shuttered Orchids of Asia day spa in Jupiter, Fla.

Noting they would blur out any footage of Kraft’s genitals, the prosecutors said Wednesday morning they were required to release the video under Florida’s Public Records Act. Citing Florida Supreme Court precedent in the 1984 case Tribune Co. v. Cannella, they claimed they are not legally permitted to delay production of public records to allow for resolution of a constitutional challenge to the records’ release.

But Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Joseph Marx temporarily put the kibosh on the video release Wednesday afternoon, granting an emergency motion by Kraft’s high-profile attorney Alex Spiro, a partner in the New York-based Quinn Emanuel law firm.

Spiro had argued the state was reneging on a promise to hold off on publicizing the video until the court ruled on motions for a protective order. He pointed to a parallel hearing involving one of the alleged spa operators, during which a prosecutor last week said he “can promise the court” that videos from the undercover investigation would not be released “without an order” from a judge.  

Spiro further argued in a letter to the court Wednesday that the release of the video would generate negative publicity that would compromise Kraft’s chance for a fair trial. 

Kraft is charged with misdemeanor solicitation of prostitution. He is among several defendants charged as part of a large-scale crackdown on alleged prostitution at massage parlors in South and Central Florida. 

Under the judge’s afternoon decision, the Kraft video now stands to stay out of the public eye until the protective order motions filed by Kraft and the alleged spa operators are resolved. 

Kraft is moreover looking to suppress the footage as evidence in the criminal case. He claims the Jupiter Police Department’s surveillance in the prostitution investigation violated his Fourth Amendment rights. 

“Law enforcement had no plausible justification for going to the extreme, invasive lengths it did just to investigate suspicion of mere solicitation,” a motion to suppress reads.

According to the court documents, Jupiter police were able to install hidden cameras in the day spa by orchestrating a fake bomb threat. A suspicious package warning was issued, and amid the evacuation, the cameras were placed inside the establishment, the documents state. 

Police had obtained a “sneak-and-peak” warrant for Orchids of Asia in January, which permitted them to video record inside the spa. An affidavit of evidence, submitted with the warrant request, stated that law enforcement had collected semen-soaked tissue from the spa’s trash and had obtained statements from spa patrons who admitted they engaged in sexual activity at Orchids of Asia. 

Detective Andrew Sharp said in the affidavit that he believed a “sneak and peak” warrant was necessary to prove that the spa owners were aware of and deriving profits from the prostitution.

A slew of media outlets, including ABC, ESPN and the Associated Press, meanwhile have implored Florida’s 15th Judicial Circuit to release the video under state public records law. 

Mark Caramanica, an attorney for the media group, told Courthouse News that the fight to access the videos does not stem solely from an interest in obtaining salacious material for consumption.

“The larger issue that is important to consider is that these records are part of the criminal process, and the public has a right to monitor the proceedings,” he said.

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