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The divorce proceedings of a disbarred Philadelphia attorney and his estranged, former Playboy Playmate wife will not be closed, the Pennsylvania Superior Court has ruled, affirming a Chester County Common Pleas Court decision denying the wife’s motion for closure. The three-judge panel was not persuaded by the protests of Victoria Zdrok, who is featured on her own adult Web site and was once a guest on the Howard Stern radio show, that an open-court proceeding would subject her to stalkers and to embarrassment from the airing of “sordid” details of her marriage. Writing for the court in Zdrok v. Zdrok, Superior Court Judge Joan Orie Melvin said the issue in the case — whether a marital settlement agreement between the parties was a valid contract — did not lend itself to the type of problems Victoria claimed she feared. “The fact that [Victoria's] business ventures may have made her well-known to a certain segment of the public does not of itself entitle her to a closed trial,” Orie Melvin said. “Many a ‘celebrity’ has faced open court proceedings in both the criminal and civil realm. As for her claims that certain intimate details of the parties’ stormy marriage may cause her embarrassment and a potential target of stalking if placed before the court, we find such claims spurious.” According to the opinion, Victoria met Alexander Zdrok when she was a 17-year-old foreign exchange student from Kiev, Ukraine, attending junior college in Florida. Orie Melvin said Victoria sought legal advice from Alexander on how she could extend her student visa because he spoke fluent Russian. Alexander suggested that Victoria marry him in order to solve legal problems, Orie Melvin said. They spent six years together in a “stormy” marriage, beginning on Oct. 26, 1990, she said. Alexander was disbarred in April 1991, according to the Pennsylvania Disciplinary Board’s Web site. Victoria entered a joint law and psychology program at Villanova University some time after the marriage, receiving her J.D. in 1997, according to her biography in a thesis she wrote for a doctorate in philosophy in May 2003, published at Drexel University’s Web site. She appeared as a Playboy Playmate in the October 1994 issue after having been discovered by a talent scout. In the divorce proceedings, Victoria alleged she was forced to sign a marital settlement agreement, without the advice of counsel, in which she promised to pay Alexander a portion of her earnings for a 10-year period following the divorce. In January 2001, Alexander filed an action in Chester County Common Pleas Court, seeking an accounting of the sources of Victoria’s income covered in the agreement. “Specifically, Alex is seeking revenues he claims [Victoria] generates from selling nude pictures and videos of herself on her Web site,” Orie Melvin said. Before trial, Victoria filed a motion in limine in an attempt to close the trial to the public and press under the Superior Court’s 1986 decision in Katz v. Katz. The trial court denied the motion, but after a half-day of testimony, Orie Melvin said, a pregnant Victoria fell ill, and the trial court continued the case until some time after she delivered the baby. Victoria appealed from the trial court’s request to deny the motion to close the proceedings. Alexander took no position in either the motion before the trial judge or on appeal. Victoria argued that the trial court failed to apply any of the reasoning in Katz, in which, Orie Melvin said, the court listed some of the considerations that go into the decision of whether to close a trial. Those considerations include the protection of private as well as public secrets, trade secrets, the privacy or reputation of the parties and matters of national security. However, Orie Melvin said, the Superior Court in Katz did not make a finding of whether the issues presented to it merited closure of the parties’ equitable distribution proceedings, because the Katz trial court did not expressly say what it would rule in a closure action if it were allowed to exercise its discretion. An action requesting closure of proceedings must be decided on a case-by-case basis, Orie Melvin said. “Thus, [Victoria's] assertion that her situation equates with an equitable distribution proceeding and presents an even stronger case for closure than was presented in Katz is unavailing,” Orie Melvin said. The trial court in the Zdroks’ case did exercise its discretion and found there was not good cause for the closure order. “Moreover, the trial judge noted that evidence of the sordid details of the parties’ marriage will be precluded at trial, as equitable distribution is not at issue,” Orie Melvin said. “Rather, all that will be inquired into is whether a contract exists, whether it was entered into by fraud or duress, and if there is a contract, whether the parties have complied with its terms.” Orie Melvin said the Superior Court agreed with the trial court that Victoria had not shown sufficient reasons that her privacy interests would outweigh the presumption of openness, noting the trial court’s statement that “sordid” details of the marriage would not be admitted at trial. “We fail to discern how examination of details of whether a valid contract exists and the income earned from appellant’s business ventures will make it more likely that stalkers would be able to locate her and do injury to her or her family,” Orie Melvin said. “The fact that appellant must defend these proceedings in open court does not require the disclosure of the location of her personal residence. The trial court has applied the appropriate analysis and in doing so fashioned the least restrictive means available short of total closure under the circumstances.”

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