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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

D.C. Madam Found Guilty, David Vitter Still at Large

posted by on April 16 at 8:21 AM

Deborah Jeane Palfrey was found guilty by a jury yesterday of running a prostitution service that, as they say, “catered to the Washington elite.” Palfrey broke some idiotic laws and she’s going to sentenced on July 24th and will likely do time. Palfrey’s many clients—a list that included members of the Washington elite like U.S. Sen. David “Diapers” Vitter, a GOP family-values crusader from Louisiana—also broke some idiotic laws but they haven’t been charged with anything, won’t be found guilty of anything, and won’t do time. Vitter won’t even be forced to resign.

Palfrey’s defense lawyers maintained that she wasn’t aware that her employees were engaging in acts of prostitution—sure, Deborah, sure—and pointed to contracts signed by her employees that stated they would be fired if they engaged in any illegal acts. But prosecutors argued that Palfrey had to know that her employees were engaged in illegal acts—illegal acts could be inferred, assumed, taken for granted. Here’s the prosecutor being quoted by CNN:

“When a man agrees to pay $250 for 90 minutes with a woman, what do most men expect in that time?” prosecutor Daniel Butler asked during closing arguments Monday. “In that context, it’s pretty clear. Most men want sex.”

Yes, Mr. Butler, most men want sex. So it’s pretty clear, in the context of a $250-for-90-minutes escort service, that sex is going on. But it’s also clear that Palfrey wasn’t the only person that coulda, woulda, shoulda known that, in that context, it was clear that sex would be going on. It’s pretty clear that Vitter and others knowingly broke the law too—Vitter has admitted to breaking the law—and yet these men haven’t been charged with anything. I don’t think prostitution should be illegal, of course. But if we’re going to throw the book at Palfrey because she had to know just what her clients were buying, then we’re obligated to throw the book at her clients, men who knew damn well what they were buying.

Oh, and this CNN sidebar points out, there are other escort services up and running in Washington D.C., and prosecutors show no signs of shutting the them down or throwing their owners and operators in jail. So this prosecution of Palfrey wasn’t the opening of a front line in a war on prostitution. It is the politically-motivated prosecution of one woman.

RSS icon Comments


dan! you are on a roll this morning!

Posted by infrequent | April 16, 2008 8:35 AM

I continue to marvel at the idiocy of the contention that what two consenting adults do, with or without the exchange of money, is somehow any of the government's business.

Posted by Fifty-Two-Eighty | April 16, 2008 8:44 AM

Power continues to operate as planned.

Posted by max solomon | April 16, 2008 8:49 AM

Not so sharp legal analysis, Dan. Suppose 90% of the customers use the service for sex. Then a boss who arranges 1000 liasons is more than 99.999% sure to have arranged sex for money, far beyond the reasonable doubt standard. But an individual customer is only 90% likely to have bought sex, far below the reasonable doubt standard. Without more evidence than a transaction record, there is no way a prosecutor can get a conviction.

Politically motivated? What political party benefits?

Posted by David Wright | April 16, 2008 8:57 AM

I have to second "infrequent". I'm on east coast time and thus daily amused by how many posts dan can get in before the morning news rolls out.

damn you morning people.

Posted by el | April 16, 2008 9:05 AM

I'm not up on these things, but considering the market, isn't $250 for 90 minutes (or $167/hour) a bargain?

Hell, I can think of plenty of things that cost like that and involve no sex whatsoever.

Posted by saxfanatic | April 16, 2008 9:14 AM

David Wright: Nu uh. Not if they get the sex worker to testify by threatening her with prosecution. Is the standard of proof for prostitution beyond a reasonable doubt?

Posted by Sandy | April 16, 2008 9:49 AM

Note also the prosecutors' harassing, truly creepy interrogation of the alleged prostitutes (like one who "worked briefly for the escort service nearly 15 years ago"):

Posted by David | April 16, 2008 10:02 AM
Wednesday, prosecutors forced a
Wednesday, prosecutors forced a 63-year-old retired PhD -- her name, like those of other witnesses, now a matter of public record -- to testify about inducing orgasms in her client; the government's lawyers had similar questions for a mother of three who worked briefly for the escort service nearly 15 years ago.

First - yeah, fuck the prosecutors.

Second - "63-year-old retired PhD"? Really? Wow.

Posted by tsm | April 16, 2008 10:52 AM

if it's a crime for the madame, they should go after the johns.
sooooo....could some enterprising alternative weekly publish the black book with all the names of all the johns?

Posted by unPC | April 16, 2008 11:00 AM

Still not stunning legal analysis. The standard for any criminal prosecution is "beyond a reasonable doubt." It's not just up to a reasonable doubt. And your other analysis is statistical analysis, not legal analysis - a jury is qualified to make the decision that Dan is asking for. A prosecutor not prosecuting the case is a political decision, not a purely legal decision.

Posted by Ed Fox | April 16, 2008 11:29 AM

$250 for 90 minutes is probably less than what the lawyers involved are charging. She should have answered, "Legal consultation."

Posted by Jeff | April 16, 2008 1:40 PM

Hey, you know that joke about the difference between a lawyer and a hooker...

Posted by Greg | April 16, 2008 2:18 PM

so what does a person donating $1,000 to a political campaign expect?

Posted by AK Rob | April 16, 2008 4:46 PM

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