One year ago, Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice announced that 104 men ages 17 to 79 had been charged with patronizing prostitutes as part of a crackdown called Flush the Johns. Yesterday, Rice's office said that nearly all those men can now plead down to a noncriminal charge of disorderly conduct. They will have to do 35 hours of community service and attend a two-hour class on the role johns play in the victimization of prostitutes.
When the men were arrested, Rice released their names and photographs. She said she wanted to create a stigma that would make men think twice about soliciting sex, and to send a message that their acts were as criminal as those of prostitutes.
At the time, the Newsday editorial board thought the operation smelled like a publicity stunt. Nassau is besieged with crony politics, a growing heroin problem and persistent allegations of police misconduct. It did not seem that prostitution was really where Rice needed to focus.
As it turns out, the operation wasn't just misguided, it was mishandled. Since the arrests, three of the four men who went to trial were acquitted. Proving beyond a reasonable doubt that someone intended to pay for sex can be quite difficult, and the failure of Rice's office to produce independent evidence of transactions undercut the prosecutions.
Now, about 75 men whose cases have not been adjudicated can plead to the noncriminal charge, and about 25 men who have pleaded guilty to the original charge, punishable by up to a year in jail, can submit new pleas.
Rice made a public show with these arrests, but it was mostly a one-time thing. Her office never made a concerted effort to go after johns before this operation, and it has not made one since.
So in the end, Flush the Johns turned out to be all about publicity for the DA. Just not good publicity.