Judge Orders Lid On Phone Records
Release Likened to Witness Intimidation
By Carol D. Leonnig
Deborah Jeane Palfrey, the woman accused of being the D.C. madam, can't release any more phone records that would reveal patrons of her Washington escort service, a federal judge said yesterday.
U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler placed a temporary restraining order on Palfrey and her civil attorney, prohibiting them from sharing additional phone records with news organizations or the public.
Palfrey and her attorney had prompted -- critics said encouraged -- speculation in the past few months about who might be publicly identified as a client after they turned over a sizable portion of her business phone records to the ABC News program "20/20."
Palfrey has said that she regretted any embarrassment felt by her former customers but that she was letting a news organization mine her records so she could find potential defense witnesses and fight government charges that she ran an illegal prostitution ring. Palfrey said her escorts provided legal massages and fantasies.
Yesterday, she questioned the government's motive in asking the judge to keep her records secret.
"What is the Government trying to hide by prohibiting further distribution of the records?" she said in an e-mail to The Washington Post. "More importantly, who are they attempting to protect?"
ABC News reporters' calls to possible customers last month ultimately led Deputy Secretary of State Randall L. Tobias to resign after he acknowledged using Palfrey's escort service. Tobias said he got a massage, not sex.
In her order, Kessler said she is concerned about statements by Palfrey and her attorney that they would release her remaining customer records for 1996 to 2002.
In a letter dated Sunday, Palfrey's civil attorney, Montgomery Blair Sibley, had demanded that Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales conduct a special investigation into what Sibley described as an unfair prosecution of Palfrey's business. Sibley said that he would release Palfrey's phone records for all to peruse -- including Internet bloggers -- if Gonzales did not take action.
Noting that ABC News had identified one federal prosecutor -- now deceased -- in its review of Palfrey's phone records, Sibley suggested that the remaining records probably contain the numbers of other notable customers and escorts.
"Consider the math: If 20% of the telephone records produced one 'career Justice Department prosecutor', then 100% of the telephone records will very likely produce at least another four (4) 'career Justice Department prosecutors.' " Sibley wrote in his letter.
The judge said that such a release would amount to witness intimidation and violate an earlier order she had imposed on Palfrey.
"The clear inference to be drawn is that there will be a wholesale release of all telephone records possessed by Ms. Palfrey," Kessler wrote in her order.
Palfrey's new criminal attorney, Preston Burton, whom Kessler formally appointed Monday, would not comment yesterday on the order. He said he will address the judge at the next hearing in the case, scheduled for May 21.