A Florida court is currently weighing an important matter: Does the public have the right to see a 77-year-old billionaire get a hand job?
The billionaire, of course, is Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots. He was arrested in February for soliciting a prostitute in a bust at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter, where surveillance cameras installed by police had captured him in action.
Kraft has pleaded not guilty, and since the arrest his lawyers have been working hard to keep that footage from being released to the media. They say that since all the seedy allegations against Kraft are in a publicly available police affidavit, releasing the actual video would serve no purpose other than to humiliate Kraft and generate a lot of clicks.
It’s a reasonable argument. But in this case, it’s in direct conflict with a series of Florida statutes called sunshine laws, which require that all government records — texts, photos, videos, whatever, including criminal evidence — must be easily available to the public, with only a few exceptions. This is what makes the endlessly entertaining Florida Man Twitter feed possible. And it’s what gives Floridians more government transparency than residents of any other state.
In other words, the Kraft case isn’t just about the public’s appetite for salacious news. It’s also about the value of government transparency, and whether a rich and famous person should be exempted from the rules. And the case is especially important because it comes at a time when the sunshine laws are under assault on a variety of fronts.
Corporations, for instance, are giving transparency a bad name by mining public records for information they can use in lawsuits. The Florida Legislature, under the guise of reducing the workload for the Department of Law Enforcement, is considering a bill that would allow the department to seal millions of criminal records from cases where charges were dropped or dismissed, or even where someone was tried and found not guilty. That would make it harder to identify patterns of misconduct or expose things like wrongful prosecutions.
Finally, there are the rich guys like Kraft pushing hard to make sure the sunshine laws don’t apply to them. And in Kraft’s case, at least, that push is working: On Tuesday, a judge temporarily sealed the tapes, saying that Kraft’s fame did make releasing them a different proposition than it would be if he were just an average Florida man.
The case is still ongoing, but for now at least, the score is Kraft 1, Transparency O.
This segment originally aired April 26, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.