The state's second-highest court has ruled that Frederick officials must release all files seized from a confessed madam, as demanded by the news media, and wiped out a lower court's restrictions on publishing the names of any private citizens that may be in the material.
The Court of Special Appeals ruling - in the latest twist in a long-running scandal involving the Corporate Affair escort service run by Angelika E. Potter - sent the Frederick News-Post back to City Hall with a renewed request for the seized evidence.
"A major police investigation fizzled when the defendant pleaded guilty," said Robin L. Quillon, the newspaper's vice president and acting publisher. "We have an interest in whether public officials were involved in Ms. Potter's business."
Quillon said the case addresses a "huge hole" in the Public Information Act, namely what becomes of evidence when a defendant pleads guilty.
But Howard J. Schulman, appointed by Frederick's insurer to represent the city, fears damage to people with no link to the scandal but with other ties to Potter whose names are in her files.
"It is a dangerous opinion," Schulman said. "It means whenever police execute a search warrant and seize a citizen's property, they can dump it out in public."
In 2000 - more than a year after Frederick police said they broke up her prostitution ring - Potter pleaded guilty to running a place of assignation and was fined $100.
She had told news groups that her client lists contained public officials' names, a statement she later denied making. But the plea deal raised suspicions that city officials played down the case to avoid personal embarrassment or that police may have blackmailed officials who were clients.
After Potter's arrest, the prosecution was turned over to Montgomery County because the stepdaughter of an investigator for the Frederick County prosecutor had worked for the escort service.
Later, Alderman Blaine Young decided against seeking re-election after his name surfaced in a portion of Potter's files released by Frederick County Judge G. Edward Dwyer Jr. in 2001. The alderman said he hired women to dance at parties, not for sex.
The fight over release of Potter's files began shortly after her guilty plea when the newspaper and the Associated Press demanded her so-called "black book." The Circuit Court judge eventually ordered release of the material with the condition that no names of private citizens be published.
The news organizations appealed, as did the City of Frederick, setting the stage for yesterday's ruling.
In a prepared statement yesterday, Frederick Mayor Jennifer P. Dougherty said she was advised to continue with the appeal to "reduce the city's exposure to financial loss. I have never changed my opinion that the release of the documents was in the best public interest."