By Joseph Ax
(Reuters) – A Florida judge on Tuesday temporarily blocked prosecutors from releasing hidden camera footage that allegedly shows New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft engaged in sexual acts inside a massage parlor.
The billionaire owner of the six-time Super Bowl champions is among dozens of men accused of soliciting prostitution inside Orchids of Asia Spa in Jupiter, Florida. He has pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor charges and issued a public apology for his actions.
Palm Peach County Judge Leonard Hanser said Kraft’s right to a fair trial could be harmed if prosecutors release the video to media outlets, which requested the footage under Florida’s robust open government laws.
“The potential jury pool would be given the opportunity to preview trial evidence, including identifying (Kraft) as the person depicted in the videotapes,” Hanser wrote in a ruling on Tuesday.
The videos will remain sealed until a jury is seated, a plea deal is reached or the case is dismissed, Hanser said.
Kraft’s attorneys, who argued the release would deprive him of a fair trial, have separately asked the judge to suppress the evidence from his case. A hearing on that matter is scheduled for Friday.
A group of media outlets, including ESPN, the Associated Press and the New York Times, had asked Lanser to allow prosecutors to release the video.
“While we believe that Mr. Kraft’s fair trial rights would not have been jeopardized by release of the materials, we respect the court’s decision to temporarily withhold them and look forward to the eventual release of the records,” said Mark Caramanica, one of the lawyers representing the media companies.
The Palm Beach County state attorney’s office did not take a position on Kraft’s request to keep the footage sealed.
Another judge, Joseph Marx, who is overseeing the prosecution of the spa’s owner and manager, had previously blocked public dissemination of any footage until he holds a hearing on the matter next week.
Marx called a separate hearing on Tuesday after a gossip website, The Blast, reported last week that someone tried to sell it a copy of the Kraft tape.
The judge ruled the spa owner, Hua Zhang, and the manager, Lei Wang, can subpoena The Blast to try to determine the identity of the potential leaker. Both Zhang and Wang have pleaded not guilty.
The Blast did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Kraft, 77, purchased the Patriots, one of the National Football League’s most successful franchises, in 1994.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Scott Malone, Steve Orlofsky and James Dalgleish)