Ruling keeps John Does’ identities a secret
UNIONTOWN – Fayette County Judge Gerald R. Solomon on Tuesday ruled the identities of two men involved in the case of a former Fayette County commissioner alleged to have acted as a madam will remain a secret, unless the men are charged or subpoenaed to testify at her trial.
Solomon’s order came almost two months after the Pennsylvania Superior Court ordered Solomon to hold an evidentiary hearing to determine whether the public’s right to know the names of the two men, now referred to as John Doe No. 1 and John Doe No. 2, is outweighed by the potential harm and prejudice the men would receive. This hearing came after the Tribune-Review Publishing Co. filed an appeal of Solomon’s orders.
Former commissioner Susanne Teslovich was arrested in March 2000 and charged with two felony and four misdemeanor counts of prostitution.
When District Attorney Nancy Vernon announced that Teslovich’s phone log would be filed of as part of discovery material, the John Does asked the court to have their names stricken from the log. In one instance, Solomon did so without holding a hearing.
Solomon, in the order filed Tuesday with the Clerk of Courts office, wrote, ‘John Doe No. One and John Doe No. Two have shown good cause in this case to seal their names because the public release of this information would unnecessarily damage the reputation and privacy interests of these third parties.’
Solomon said his order only protects the men in one document and does not prevent the publication if the names are gathered from other sources.
Solomon also indicated the men’s privacy ‘will only be maintained so long as these third parties are not charged with a criminal offense arising from the Teslovich case, or until they are subpoenaed to provide testimony in the Teslovich case.’
Thus far, Teslovich has been the only individual charged.
Teslovich’s telephone log detailed the phone numbers of each incoming call, the person or business name to which the phone and number is registered and what services or information the caller sought.
At last month’s hearing, Ronald Barber, the attorney representing the Tribune Review, argued that the men could not ask the court for protection when the court, itself, did not know their identities. At this hearing, Uniontown attorney Samuel Davis, representing both John Does, said that his clients are professional persons, hold professional licenses and have practices. Davis argued that the publication of his clients’ names would subject them to unnecessary pain and prejudice against them.
Solomon noted that Dr. Paul Bernstein, a licensed psychologist, testified as an expert on behalf of the Does – though he had never spoken with them. Bernstein said the publication of the names of John Doe No. 1 and John Doe No. 2 would cause them severe pain and harm to their reputations in the community and their practices. This publication would also jeopardize their licenses and cause anxiety, guilt and fear, said Bernstein. Solomon said this anxiety, fear and guilt would constitute severe pain.
Bernstein testified that if the men’s names were associated with an escort service, this has the potential to cause severe pain, even if the allegation were true or false, wrote Solomon.
‘If the names of John Doe No. One and John Doe No. Two are published, the general public will perceive that they were involved in the procurement of prostitutes,’ said Solomon. ‘This perception will not be based on any facts, or an investigation that has yet to make a decision whether to prosecute.’
‘Persons who have not been charged as defendants in a criminal case have a recognized right to privacy,’ Solomon wrote.
Although the Tribune-Review has been through the appellate courts on the matter before, the newspaper will continue with an expedited appeal.
‘We think that it’s important that this issue is deiced prior to the trial in this matter – there’s no point in delaying the public’s right to know,’ said Ronald D. Barber, a lawyer with the Pittsburgh firm of Strassburger, McKenna, Gutnick & Potter, which represents the Tribune-Review.
Teslovich, 54, of Smock, Menallen Township, is allege to have acted as a madam of a prostitution ring that operated from her home. The business, First Class Entertainment Service, was alleged to be an escort service.
Teslovich is awaiting trial.
According to Assistant District Attorney Mark Brooks, the Teslovich case could be tried in September.