Former South Portland Mayor James A. Soule is among those charged with paying a Zumba instructor for sex.

Soule, 58, is the best-known figure among the 21 men charged so far with engaging a prostitute in the case against Alexis Wright of Wells and her alleged business partner, Mark Strong Sr. of Thomaston.

“There are people that know Jim well and won’t judge him badly,” said Soule’s attorney, Peter DeTroy. “There will be people who don’t know him well and may judge him badly.”

Soule was South Portland’s mayor — a largely ceremonial post in which city councilors take turns serving — most recently in 2008. He also served in 1990-91 and 1992-93.

Soule, who comes from a prominent Portland family, has appeared often in television advertisements for the business he once ran, A-Best Windows. The business has been run by his son for the past two years.

He could not be reached on Tuesday.

Soule was first elected to the council in 1988 and served for several years. After a hiatus, he was elected in 2006 and served until 2009.

Soule made national news with his inaugural speech as mayor in 2007, when he said southern Maine should secede from the rest of the state.

Soule is a member of the Maine Sports Hall of Fame. He led Morse High School in Bath to three state football championships before graduating in 1972 and setting rushing records at Bowdoin College.

He was a teacher at Westbrook High School from 1978 to 1979. He is married and has three children.

The highly anticipated list of names of those charged by Kennebunk police has been the subject of national attention in a case that has roiled the town.

DeTroy said the case against Soule has been blown out of proportion.

“I have never in 40 years seen so much ado about so little, but that’s more … a function of the times we live in than anything else,” DeTroy said. “It’s a Class E misdemeanor, which never generates any jail time. It’s a fine.”

Prostitution arrests typically come from investigations into more serious crimes, DeTroy said, including crimes of violence and people using drugs to enslave women. He said this case is nothing like that.

“It’s a question of a willing seller and a willing buyer. In many parts of the world, it’s totally legal, some states even,” DeTroy said.

Soule has no criminal record in Maine, according to the State Bureau of Identification.

His name is among the first 21 released by the Kennebunk Police Department, from a list that reportedly includes as many as 150. The defendants are charged with engaging a prostitute and are due in Biddeford District Court on Dec. 5.

DeTroy said he doesn’t know why Soule’s name was in the first group. He has yet to see any of the prosecution’s case against his client.

“He obviously feels terribly about this,” DeTroy said. “The biggest impact of this is on his family and his friends. That’s truly the most dreadful situation.”

Maxine Beecher, who served on the South Portland City Council with Soule as recently as 2009, said she didn’t know him well outside of the council chambers.

“We all kind of chuckled about some of the things he asked for,” she said. “I certainly knew I didn’t take him very seriously.”

Beecher said she couldn’t predict the impact of the news of the prostitution charge. “Certainly I don’t see how it has any fallout for the city,” she said.

Former Councilor Brian Dearborn said Soule was a good councilor who represented the interests of the whole city, not just District 3, where he lived.

“Jim did a very good job,” Dearborn said. “He spoke out for what he believed in. He was an advocate for education.”

Dearborn said he wouldn’t guess about the impact of the charges on Soule’s stature in the city. “You’re innocent until proven guilty,” he said.

Wright and Strong are charged with taping sex acts between Wright and customers without the customers’ knowledge.

Some observers have speculated that the purpose was to blackmail the customers later, but DeTroy said he knows of no effort to extort money from his client.

The prostitution case has made national news. On Tuesday, a reporter who identified himself as being from a network morning news show was outside the home where Soule has lived in South Portland. Soule is now listed as a resident of Fort Myers, Fla.

DeTroy said the defendants in the case generally offered to work with prosecutors and police but were not given a chance. He said the charges are embarrassing for Soule, but not serious.

“I think this will be a hard patch for him to get over personally,” DeTroy said. “Like all these things, it will pass, and hopefully everyone will pick up the pieces.”

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

dhench@pressherald.com