A Florida judge on Wednesday ruled that prosecutors can’t use video surveillance in a handful of cases involving men accused of soliciting sex at a Florida day spa, a decision that could help Patriots owner Robert Kraft’s efforts to suppress similar footage of him in a multicounty law enforcement operation.
The ruling in Martin County came as Kraft’s attorneys made similar arguments to suppress video and other evidence from being used in his prosecution in a separate courtroom in neighboring Palm Beach County.
The judge in Palm Beach County did not rule Wednesday on the motion to suppress the Kraft video and ordered that the NFL team owner be in court for the next hearing on May 21.
Kraft is one of dozens of spa patrons accused of receiving illicit massages at the Orchids of Asia spa in Jupiter.
He and other defendants have pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges based on what authorities describe as evidence collected from the recordings and other surveillance methods.
The Martin County ruling was in response to a motion filed by defendant Paul Frahm but also applies to three other defendants with similar legal cases, according to Richard Kibbey, an attorney representing three of the parties. The identities of the other three defendants were not immediately available.
Judge Kathleen Roberts ruled that authorities did not follow strict legal standards required for such invasive surveillance. As part of the operation, officers installed hidden cameras in the massage rooms of unsuspecting businesses and continuously recorded customers. Some customers allegedly received paid sexual services.
Roberts said authorities failed their obligation to “avoid the intrusion on the activities of the innocent.”
“The difference between surveillance and video surveillance is akin to the difference between pat down search and strip search,” Roberts wrote. “There was no effort made to avoid capturing innocent activity behind the closed door of a massage room.”
Martin County Assistant State Attorney Lev Evans said prosecutors will appeal her decision.
Kibbey said he believes the order applies to the Kraft case and hundreds of others across the state.
Kraft’s attorneys cited Roberts’ order during their own hearing in Palm Beach County on Wednesday. They have maintained that Kraft did not take part in illegal activity. They also argue that investigators violated his rights by continuously taping at the Orchids of Asia day spa, and during a traffic stop conducted after he left the spa.
Palm Beach County Assistant State Attorney Greg Kridos would not comment on the Martin County ruling.
Kraft attorney Alex Spiro on Wednesday questioned the lead detective in the operation about what steps he took to minimize the surveillance of innocent patrons.
Detective Andrew Sharp said detectives would move the angle of the camera away from the activity during legitimate massages.
“When you monitored, how many innocent people did you see?” Spiro asked.
“I’m not sure,” Sharp answered.
Two detectives told the court they minimized the video screen during legitimate massages.
The recordings have become a key point of contention in the cases, with both defendants and spa patrons who were not charged with crimes trying to prevent their release.
Kraft’s lawyers have maintained that releasing the video would violate his constitutional rights and hamper his chance for a fair trial.
Last week, Judge Leonard Hanser cited Kraft’s fair trial rights when he ordered that the footage could only be released under the following circumstances: when a jury is sworn in for trial; when the case is resolved via plea agreement or the state decides that it no longer wants to pursue the charges.
CNN and other media outlets have filed motions in the case seeking the tapes’ release.