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Modern-day Puritans wring hands over Zumba Madam’s list of shame

A Maine court will consider whether a prostitution 'list of shame' is a punishment too Puritanical even for New England, where the fallout may include schoolyard teasing and public shaming.

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In a page straight out of Hawthorne, CNN quotes Kennebunk bakery employee Josh Raymond, who says customers are talking about the scandal, but “in hushed tones.” The Portland Press-Herald, the state’s largest paper, has debated whether to publish all names or just those of prominent individuals in order to minimize damage to reputations and livelihoods.

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At the local York County Coast Star newspaper, editors and reporters struggled to conclude that publishing the entire list is the right thing to do.

"There are people in this community who have had their names dragged through the mud for months because people believe they are on the list," Coast Star editor Laura Dolce told CNN. "We also believe that printing the names of those charged with engaging a prostitute is the fair thing to do … to help set the record straight and put to rest the ugly rumors that continue to circulate throughout town."

Others say public shaming, in this case, may not be in the community’s interest.

“What about all those wives and children?” writes Portland Press-Herald columnist Bill Nemitz. “Devastating as this might be inside homes throughout Kennebunk and beyond, is there any way to mitigate the misery they’ll experience this week as they head for the workplace, the supermarket, the church, or, worst of all, the school bus?”

"I can't imagine, if the names are published, how I will ever even leave the house knowing what whispers would follow me everywhere," a woman who claims to be married to one of the johns wrote on a Press-Herald comment page.

Ms. Wright, who is 29, is facing 106 criminal counts related to prostitution and tax evasion. She has pleaded not guilty. Her business partner, Mark Strong, has pleaded not guilty to 59 misdemeanor charges in the case. Forty-five men who allegedly hired Wright for illegal services have already been notified of charges against them. A district court judge refused a motion to seal the names, but defense attorneys appealed that decision to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Friday.

Southern Maine, which includes a Bush family outpost in nearby Kennebunkport, has been consumed by the intrigue around “The List,” as it’s come to be called. But jokes turned sour for some when police began preparing summonses based on evidence, including 100 hours of videotape, against some of the alleged johns.

One of the alleged johns, identified as “John Doe 1,” stated in court paperwork that public shaming would ruin his life. “I am a productive member of society, I have children, and my family and reputation will be irreparably harmed if my name is revealed pursuant to the so-called ‘list.’”

When it meets next week, however, the Maine high court will have to decide whether to release the names and potentially give a nod to the redemptive power of public shaming, a notion captured in the “The Scarlet Letter” by Hester Prynne, who continued to wear her “A” for adulterer into a respectable, even envied, middle age.

RELATED: Political sex scandals

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