PORTLAND — Maine’s highest court has affirmed a judge’s decision to dismiss 46 counts of violation of privacy against one of two key defendants in the Kennebunk prostitution case.
Friday’s ruling cleared the way for Mark Strong Sr. to stand trial on 13 remaining counts, alleging that he promoted prostitution and conspired with Alexis Wright to run a prostitution business from her Zumba studio in Kennebunk.
After the Maine Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling, the trial judge, Justice Nancy Mills, scheduled a hearing Tuesday morning in York County Superior Court in Alfred to discuss what happens next in the case.
Strong, 57, of Thomaston, was accused of helping Wright to make video recordings of her encounters with prostitution customers. His attorney Daniel Lilley said in oral arguments before the state supreme court Wednesday that “patrons of prostitution have no reasonable expectation of privacy.”
Assistant District Attorney Patrick Gordon argued that patrons of prostitution, like secret lovers behind closed doors, can expect privacy, whether money changes hands or not.
After the oral arguments, the high court took just two days to reject the appeal by prosecutors, who argued that Mills was mistaken in dismissing the 46 counts against Strong — 45 counts of violation of privacy and one count of conspiracy to commit violation of privacy.
The court was unanimous, finding that prosecutors had “failed to adequately charge the offense of violation of privacy” against Strong, according to the decision written by Justice Jon Levy.
“Places of prostitution and people who knowingly frequent them to engage a prostitute are not sanctioned by society,” Levy wrote in the 12-page decision. “Accordingly, it is objectively unreasonable for a person who knowingly enters a place of prostitution for the purpose of engaging a prostitute to expect that society recognizes a right to be safe from surveillance while inside.”
Wright’s attorney, Sarah Churchill, filed a brief with the supreme court as an interested party because Wright also faces 46 counts of violation of privacy.
Wright, 30, of Wells, is scheduled to stand trial on a total of 106 counts in May. She has pleaded not guilty to violation of privacy, promotion of prostitution, engaging in prostitution, conspiracy, tax offenses and receiving welfare benefits when ineligible.
Jury selection for Strong’s trial was nearly finished last month when Mills granted the motion by Strong’s attorneys to dismiss the 46 counts. The pool of 250 potential jurors is scheduled to be dismissed at the end of this month.
Potential jurors have not been asked to report for duty Tuesday, according to the York County Superior Court clerk’s office.
Mills issued a gag order at the start of jury selection. That order remains in effect, barring lawyers in the case from talking about the supreme court’s ruling. Lilley has a motion pending before Mills to lift the gag order. No hearing has been scheduled on the motion.
The gag order does not extend to Wright’s case, so Churchill is free to talk about the high court’s decision.
She said, “It’s helpful in the sense of what it means … as to how the violation of privacy counts against my client will be dismissed. It doesn’t do anything to the felony charges,” Churchill said. “It’s probably not as significant in my case as it is in Dan (Lilley)’s.”
Three of the 106 counts against Wright are felonies: two counts of theft by deception, for allegedly filing fraudulent income tax returns, and one count of evasion of income tax. The most serious charges are each punishable by as much as 10 years in prison.
The 13 remaining counts against Strong are all misdemeanors, punishable by as much as a year in jail.
Strong’s attorneys have said they expect the trial could take three weeks. Prosecutors have 57 witnesses on their preliminary list, including 18 men who have been convicted of engaging Wright for prostitution.
Any further delay could make Strong’s trial overlap with pretrial motions and hearings for Wright’s trial. Churchill has a March 26 deadline to file motions and a hearing date of April 1 for those motions.
Churchill said she has been asked to attend Tuesday morning’s meeting in York County Superior Court.
Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at: