Twenty-eight people accused of buying sex from a brothel ring that operated in Cambridge, Watertown, and the Washington, D.C., suburbs are scheduled to appear in court next week for public hearings over whether there is enough evidence to support a request by police to bring charges against them.
The hearings, which will be held before a magistrate, are slated for 10 a.m. on Jan. 18, 19, and 22 at Cambridge District Court. The magistrate will determine whether there’s sufficient evidence to charge each of the individuals, according to a trial courts spokesperson.
Authorities have not publicly identified the 28 people, who have not been arrested and were summoned last week to appear in court for the hearings. The applications filed by police seeking charges against each of the 28 will not be made public unless the magistrate grants the request, allowing prosecutors to move forward, according to the spokesperson. The hearings will be held in a large satellite courtroom used by the court on Third Street in Cambridge.
The case captured national attention in November when federal authorities charged three people accused of operating the prostitution ring that catered to wealthy clientele and said the client list included elected officials, government contractors with security clearances, and military officers.
Han “Hana” Lee, 41, of Cambridge, is accused of being the leader of the interstate prostitution network. She is charged along with James Lee, 68, of Torrance, Calif., and Junmyung Lee, 30, of Dedham, with violating the Mann Act, a federal law that targets interstate prostitution rings. All three have pleaded not guilty and are being held pending trial.
Last month, the US attorney’s office said the Homeland Security Investigations task force that investigated the case had asked state authorities to pursue criminal charges against 28 people suspected of being customers. Acting US Attorney Joshua Levy said a Cambridge police officer assigned to the task force filed the applications for criminal complaints with the Cambridge District Court against the alleged “sex buyers.”
The hearings were initially slated to be held behind closed doors, as is common for show cause magistrate hearings, but clerk magistrate Sharon Shelfer Casey ruled last month to open them to the public after the Globe and other outlets appealed.
In her ruling, Shelfer Casey wrote that it has been a “longstanding and important practice of the court” to hold such hearings behind closed doors to protect the privacy rights of people accused of misdemeanor crimes who have not been arrested. “However,” she continued, “the court has recognized the very limited exception where legitimate public interest overweighs the individuals’ privacy rights.”
A 2008 rule issued by the chief justice of the Massachusetts trial court says that “presumptively, show cause hearings are private and closed to the public,” but people or organizations may petition for public access. “If the application is one of special public significance and the magistrate concludes that legitimate public interests outweigh the accused’s right of privacy, the hearing may be opened to the public and should be conducted in the formal atmosphere of a courtroom,” according to the rule.
UPDATED: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of the name of the clerk magistrate, Sharon Shelfer Casey.