PORTLAND —The judge in the case of a Thomaston man accused in an alleged prostitution operation in Kennebunk that may involve numerous prominent clients has recused herself, acceding to a defense motion unrelated to the actual case.
Justice Joyce Wheeler, who normally sits in Cumberland County, had been specially assigned to the high-profile case of Mark Strong Sr. because there were concerns that if York County judges knew any of the witnesses, they would have to recuse themselves. The alleged existence of client records has given rise to speculation about who is on the list.
Strong’s lawyer, Daniel Lilley, said Kennebunk police gave him a list related to this case Friday of people who apparently engaged in sexual conduct for money. Lilley said he had a spreadsheet that included names, dates, email addresses, occupations, the services provided, the amount of time involved, prices and codes.
He said he had another list that included biographical information such as marital status, number of children, town of residence and, in one case, that a man was a cancer survivor.
Lilley said he had not had much time to review the information but noticed it included lawyers, a television personality, a cook, a rancher and someone in advertising.
“It seems there’s every profession. It’s kind of a mish-mash,” he said.
Lilley had argued in court last week that Wheeler should not hear the case because a connection between one of her law clerks and a prosecutor on the case could create the possibility or appearance of bias. York County Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan and Assistant Attorney General Gregg Bernstein supported Lilley’s motion.
Wheeler declined to recuse herself at that time. She noted then that the clerk, Jonathan Nathans, is one of four based in Cumberland County who work with several judges. She said Nathans, who is married to Assistant Attorney General Kate Lawrence, has no involvement in the case, will not work on it and will not communicate with his wife or the clerk assigned to the case.
It’s not clear why Wheeler subsequently decided not to hear the case.
“A judge does not have to give a reason why, and she did not give a reason why,” Mary Ann Lynch, a spokeswoman for the state court system, said Friday.
Now that Wheeler has taken that step, Superior Court Chief Justice Thomas Humphrey will assign another judge Monday, Lynch said.
“We don’t have a prostitute, we don’t have any johns … Now we don’t even have a judge. I don’t know where this case is going,” Lilley said.
No one else has been charged in the case to date.
Bernstein and McGettigan, the two prosecutors, declined to comment on Wheeler’s recusal.
Strong was arrested in July, five months after police searched a fitness studio in Kennebunk, a nearby office space and the Wells home of Alexis Wright, the business’ owner.
According to a police affidavit in support of Strong’s arrest, authorities found videotaped footage of Wright performing sexual acts with men, a ledger key containing prices for the acts, “meticulous” client records and evidence that Wright had asked Strong to run license-plate numbers.
The affidavit also indicated that authorities had uncovered postal, telephone and bank records that established links between Wright and Strong, who was a guarantor on Wright’s studio lease.
Lilley said Wright hired Strong, a 57-year-old insurance agent and private investigator, because she felt harassed by Kennebunk police.
Lilley said Strong loaned Wright money for what he believed was a legitimate business venture.
Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at: