updated 3/16/2007 8:56:44 PM ET 2007-03-17T00:56:44

A federal judge ruled Friday that a former escort service owner cannot sell phone records and other documents that could be used to publicly identify thousands of her clients.

Deborah Jeane Palfrey, 50, has said she planned to sell the list of up to 15,000 client phone numbers and other records to a news organization to help raise money for her defense. The alleged "D.C. Madam" ran Pamela Martin and Associates, an upscale escort service in the Washington area, for 13 years before it closed in August.

Palfrey's civil attorney, Montgomery Blair Sibley, said Friday he does not believe the judge's order bars him from distributing copies of the phone records for free.

In any event, Sibley said it's a moot point because he has already given copies of the records to an undisclosed news organization. Sibley said the original records are preserved and nothing he has done will prevent prosecutors from inspecting all the materials.

Federal prosecutors allege that Palfrey ran a prostitution ring that yielded $2 million in assets, including cash and homes. In October, the federal government froze the assets after a 2 1/2-year investigation by the Internal Revenue Service. Palfrey is suing to have the assets returned.

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler issued a restraining order against Palfrey on Friday and ordered her not to sell any company records or assets. She set a hearing on the issue for Monday.

Sibley has said there were a dozen serious bidders for the 40 pounds of phone records. The bidders ranged from "checkbook journalists to the gold standard of American journalism," Sibley said. Attorneys for people who fear their names will become public have also been after the records, he said.

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