Monday, December 9, 2013
PORTLAND — The state’s high court has so far taken no action over the weekend or Monday morning on requests by prosecutors and defense attorneys in the stalled trial of Mark Strong Sr., one of two key defendants in the Kennebunk prostitution case.
Mark Strong Sr. leaves Cumberland County Courthouse following a hearing on a motion by his defense attorney, Dan Lilley, on Jan. 18, 2013.
John Ewing / Staff Photographer
Potential jurors were told via a hotline Monday morning not to report to York County Superior Court in Alfred for jury selection.
The highly anticipated trial, which would be the first major courtroom showdown since the prostitution scandal broke last year, has been in limbo since Friday, when the judge presiding over the trial dismissed 46 of the 59 counts against Strong in the middle of the jury selection process, prompting prosecutors to appeal to the state Supreme Judicial Court to stop the trial.
Strong, 57, of Thomaston, is accused of conspiring with Alexis Wright to run a one-woman prostitution business from her Zumba studio in Kennebunk, and of helping to make video recordings of her activities with customers.
The presiding judge in the trial, Justice Nancy Mills, granted a motion by Strong’s attorneys on Friday morning in York County Superior Court in Alfred to dismiss 46 counts of violation of privacy against Strong.
Thirteen charges are still pending against Strong: 12 counts of promotion of prostitution and a single count of conspiracy to promote prostitution.
In dismissing the violation of privacy charges, Mills agreed with Strong’s attorney, Daniel Lilley, who argued that people engaged in a criminal act cannot have an expectation of privacy. She ruled that the patrons who were committing a crime by paying for sex “may have had a subjective expectation of privacy, but I can’t find an objective expectation of privacy that society would be willing to expect.”
The lead prosecutor, York County Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan, requested a recess after the judge’s ruling and obtained permission for the state Attorney General’s Office to file an appeal. McGettigan argued that Mills’ dismissal of the 46 counts poses a “serious impairment” to the prosecution of the case, giving legal grounds for the appeal. The case was suspended until the Maine Supreme Judicial Court rules.
The jury selection process for the trial also remains up in the air.
Potential jurors in the case were instructed as they left Friday to call a jury hotline on Sunday night to see whether they needed to report to court in Alfred on Monday morning. The message Sunday told them to call again Monday morning at 10 a.m. for further instruction.
The message Monday morning told them not to report for jury duty Monday.
The judge had been conducting individual juror questioning, called voir dire, behind closed doors for three days last week before the state’s Supreme Judicial Court ordered the process stopped in response to an appeal filed by the Portland Press Herald. In a 6-1 decision, the state’s highest court ordered that voir dire must continue in open court.
The court never got that far. McGettigan’s appeal has put jury selection in limbo, leaving the judge to release the jurors for the day Friday with instructions to call the hotline to see what’s next.
Strong’s attorneys, Daniel Lilley and Tina Nadeau, pushed for the trial to go forward, saying Strong has a legal right to a speedy trial and that the state does not have a right to an appeal.
“Our defendant has a right to a speedy trial, which we have vigorously, as you have noted, moved forward,” Nadeau said in court Friday.
Nadeau said the pool of potential jurors had sat confined in the basement of the courthouse for four days.
“There’s no doubt that they could take that out on the defendant because they’ve had to sit down there,” she said.
Nadeau and Lilley filed a 12-page legal argument Sunday afternoon with the state Supreme Court, challenging the merits of the prosecution’s appeal of Mills’ dismissal ruling.
“The state’s position on this appeal is contrary to reason, common sense and the interests of society. These patrons should not be awarded the protection of the law to shield their unlawful activities,” Lilley and Nadeau said in their written argument.
Mills has described the media attention in the Kennebunk prostitution case as “unprecedented.” She said this is the first time in her 19 years as a judge that she has been unable to seat a jury for a trial in a single day.
Wright, 30, of Wells, is scheduled to stand trial on 106 counts against her in May. She has pleaded not guilty to all counts, including promotion of prostitution, engaging in prostitution, violation of privacy, conspiracy, tax offenses and receiving welfare benefits when ineligible.
She faces 46 counts of violation of privacy, the same number as Strong did before Mills dismissed them.
Wright’s attorney, Sarah Churchill, said Friday that she likely would have asked the judge to dismiss those charges against her client as well.
The case has drawn so much attention in part because Wright is suspected of keeping a meticulous list of more than 150 names of customers, including prominent figures. Sixty-six have been charged and 18 have pleaded guilty to engaging a prostitute.
Staff Writer Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org