Media outlets seeking access to video evidence in Robert Kraft’s prostitution case in Florida are chasing “eyeballs and clicks” for their websites by publishing footage that is “basically pornography,” a lawyer for the New England Patriots owner said Friday.
William Burck made the assertion during a hearing in Palm Beach County, where the 77-year-old billionaire faces two misdemeanor counts of soliciting prostitution at a Jupiter spa in January.
Kraft has denied engaging in illegal activity, pleaded not guilty, and requested a jury trial. Video cameras secretly installed by police, pursuant to a warrant, allegedly captured Kraft receiving sexual favors in exchange for cash inside the Orchids of Asia Day Spa on two consecutive days.
His lawyers are seeking a protective order to seal the video evidence, at least until their separate motion to suppress the evidence is addressed. The latter motion, if successful, would bar prosecutors from showing the video to jurors at trial.
A number of media outlets, including the Globe, have opposed the request to seal the video footage. Kraft’s high-powered legal team sparred for more than three hours Friday with attorneys for the news companies during the hearing before Judge Leonard Hanser.
Hanser did not issue a ruling on the motion to seal video footage, taking the matter under advisement and ordering both sides to submit proposed orders to him by Tuesday at noon. A hearing on the separate motion from Kraft’s lawyers to have the footage deemed inadmissible at trial is slated for April 26.
Burck, noting that previously released affidavits provide detailed descriptions of Kraft’s alleged conduct captured on video, asked Hanser, “What is the reason the public needs to see the video itself?”
Burck answered his own question, telling Hanser, “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.”
“It is basically pornography, your honor,” Burck said of the video.
He argued “irreparable harm” that will come to Kraft if the video is released before the motion-to-suppress hearing on April 26 will be “absolutely catastrophic” and imperil his right to a fair trial.
Burck also reiterated a defense argument that police illegally obtained the warrant to install cameras inside the spa by falsely suggesting the business was tied to human trafficking.
Dana J. McElroy, a lawyer for the media outlets, maintained that even if Hanser deemed the video evidence inadmissible at trial, the media would still have a right to access the footage under state public records law.
“This is not a case about whether the public gets to see prurient material,” she said. “It’s a case about a legitimate public concern about practices that go on, day in and day out, in our communities.”
Burck said prosecutors have indicated none of the men charged in the sting at the Jupiter spa had any knowledge of human trafficking. He added, “We argue that there was no human trafficking, and police knew that.”
Kraft was one of 25 men charged with misdemeanor solicitation stemming from the sting, which was part of a multicounty probe looking into suspected human trafficking at spas. Neither Kraft nor any of the other men has been charged with trafficking.
During Friday’s hearing, Assistant State Attorney Greg Kridos told Hanser that while Orchids had “all the appearances of human trafficking” when the probe began in October, prosecutors have no evidence that trafficking occurred there.
Kridos said none of the men allegedly captured on video engaged in sex will be charged with trafficking.
Even so, said McElroy, the lawyer representing the media outlets, the case is still a matter of public import. She said it remains an issue of public concern “that massage parlors are essentially places of prostitution.”