Hearings for alleged clients of Mass. sex ring catering to prominent clientele halted again

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Days after ruling that court hearings for several people accused of paying for sex in a commercial sex ring would be public, Supreme Judicial Court Frank Gaziano has again halted those hearings, pending an appeal by more than a dozen “John Doe” people at the center of the case.

That group, identified only as “John Doe Nos. 1- 13 and No. 18″ in court paperwork, are requesting that the full Supreme Judicial court weigh in about whether the hearings will be public, or not.

“John Doe Nos. 1- 13 and No. 18 respectfully request that the hearings be stayed, and that the matter be referred to the full Court for further briefing and oral argument,” according to a motion to stay proceedings and appeal to the full Supreme Judicial Court filed Tuesday by attorneys representing the John Does.

Elected officials, doctors, lawyers, professors, accountants, and military officers were reportedly among a group of “high-end” clients who paid for the illegal sex services at various locations in the Bay State and in Virginia.

Probable cause hearings were halted last month for the people accused of paying for sex in a commercial sex ring that authorities said catered to “wealthy and well-connected clientele.”

After public back-and-forth court filings on the matter in recent weeks, Gaziano on Friday --in a ruling termed by his office on that day to be his final judgement in the matter -- vacated his earlier stay of the hearings, which were initially scheduled to be public.

“Opening the show cause hearings to the public... promotes transparency, accountability, and public confidence in the judiciary by demonstrating that each individual accused of these crimes, no matter their station in life, is treated equally,” Gaziano wrote in his ruling on Friday.

On Wednesday, Gaziano halted those hearings, again.

“Upon consideration, it is ORDERED that the judgment denying the G. L. c. 211, § 3 petition is STAYED pending the appeal,” Gaziano wrote in his latest ruling on Wednesday. “It is FURTHER ORDERED that the proceedings in the Cambridge District Court are STAYED, pending further order of this Court.”

In their motion filed to stay the proceedings, attorneys representing the “John Doe” people argued that their clients would suffer “immediate and irreparable harm” if the hearings are public.

“John Doe Nos. 1 - 13 and No. 18 will have no future recourse to remedy the immediate and irreparable harm each will suffer personally if his show cause hearing takes place in public,” the attorneys wrote.

Furthermore, the attorneys argued, “the decisions of the Single Justice and clerk-magistrate at issue are clearly erroneous where they fail to engage in any fact-finding or analysis of the individualized privacy interests of each John Doe as required by basic notions of procedural due process,” they wrote in their motion.

“The decisions of the Single Justice and clerk-magistrate on the one hand opening the hearings to the public but on the other hand recognizing that privacy interests which preclude making public the applications for complaints and related paperwork before the hearings are irreconcilable,” the attorneys wrote.

“The interests of justice dictate that the full Court consider and rule upon these issues where the resolution of these issues will have broad application to show cause hearings across the Commonwealth,” the attorneys wrote.

Cambridge District Court Clerk-Magistrate Sharon Shelfer Casey ruled in December that the court proceedings would be made public. In her Dec. 21, 2023 ruling, she wrote in part as it relates to this case, “The court has recognized the very limited exception where legitimate public interest overweighs the individuals’ privacy rights.”

A Cambridge police detective on Dec. 18, 2023 filed applications for criminal complaint against 28 people for sexual conduct with another person for a fee.

Attorneys for the alleged sex ring clients, only identified as “John Doe #1-17″ to date in court documents, are pushing to keep the court hearings private.

No names on the client list will be released until probable cause has been found, officials have said.

On Friday, authorities announced that three people at the center of the commercial sex ring in Massachusetts and Virginia have been indicted by a federal grand jury, Acting U.S. Attorney Josh Levy said.

Authorities in November arrested Han “Hana” Lee, 41, of Cambridge; James Lee, 68, of Torrance, California, and Junmyung Lee, 30, of Dedham, who are all accused of running a “sophisticated” commercial sex network in Watertown, Cambridge, and in Virginia, where buyers paid up to $600 per hour for a wide array of advertised sex acts.

All three have each been indicted on one count of conspiracy to persuade, induce, entice, and coerce one or more individuals to travel in interstate or foreign commerce to engage in prostitution; and one count of money laundering conspiracy, Levy said in a statement.

It was unclear Wednesday when, or if, the public court hearings would be rescheduled.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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