A pivotal hearing that could decide the legal fate of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft was postponed to Monday, delaying a crossroads that is expected to either scuttle the solicitation of prostitution case or move it definitively toward a trial.
Judge Leonard Hanser rescheduled the hearing for Monday after reportedly feeling ill.
The development gives the Palm Beach County prosecutors office the weekend to determine if it has any last-minute moves to keep the case on track. That office was delivered a devastating loss earlier this week, when Hanser ruled that surveillance of Kraft inside the Orchids of Asia Day Spa was inadmissible. Kraft’s lawyers are moving to have the video blocked from public release on the grounds that the “sneak and peek” warrant was improperly executed and therefore illegal in the hopes that would override Florida statutes making videos subject to public release in police cases.
The release of the video would be significant for Kraft. The NFL could use it as grounds for punishment under the broader strokes of the personal conduct policy pertaining to “detrimental” behavior to the league’s reputation. Kraft’s team appears to have traction in arguing that the warrant producing the video never should have existed and was also flawed in execution.
In his ruling striking down the surveillance evidence, Hasner called the warrant’s privacy measures “insufficient” and also labeled the video “seriously flawed” after it captured customers who were not under investigation – including female patrons – receiving standard massage treatments at the spa.
Interestingly, until there is a ruling on permanently blocking the release of that video, Kraft appears to still have some significant vulnerability to the whims of the prosecution. Hasner’s order blocking the release of the video stands until only one of three things occurs: The beginning of a trial; a plea agreement resolving the case; or a dismissal of the charges. Under that order, the prosecution could have dropped the charges against Kraft and immediately made the video public in a records dump. Kraft’s attorneys are trying to prevent that.
As for a potential trial, Friday’s delay gives prosecutors more time to mull their options. The pause still appears unlikely to hurt Kraft, given that the lynchpin video evidence in the case has been barred. Undoubtedly, options for even getting the case to trial are dwindling. Unless new evidence suddenly surfaces or one of the other individuals charged in the case chooses to testify against Kraft – which appeared unlikely as of Friday – it’s not clear if authorities have any remaining path to support trial.
That’s part of what made Friday’s hearing a significant moment. A “status check” in the case was expected to result in prosecutors confronting the significant headwinds in maintaining the two misdemeanor charges of soliciting prostitution that stand against the Patriots owner. Without some turn of events, those headwinds are likely to still exist Monday. And that is ultimately expected to lead to a motion for dismissal by Kraft’s attorneys if the charges aren’t withdrawn by the prosecutor’s office next week.
If and when that resolution materializes, it will move Kraft into a more pressing question: Whether the NFL will seek to punish him under the personal conduct policy in the coming months. If the video in the Kraft case never sees the light of day, the league would have to navigate the question of whether Kraft’s legal entanglements – even without a trial – were “detrimental” to the NFL’s image. Or whether his statement of apology at the onset of the charges, in which he expressed vague contrition and understanding being held to a “higher standard” is enough to hold him accountable for the past several months of headlines.
Given how hard Kraft’s legal team has battled to wipe out two misdemeanor charges in Palm Beach County, it stands to reason that he’s setting up to fight the NFL on the granular points of the personal conduct as well. If Kraft ultimately wasn’t prosecuted and no evidence exists publicly to suggest he broke the law, it might be difficult for the league to find his defense against charges as “detrimental” conduct.
For now, that’s a quagmire for another day. One that was delayed Friday. But the resolution to his legal charges is coming, likely as early as next week, setting the stage for a staredown with the NFL next.
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