November 9, 2012

Prostitution case invites legal scrutiny

Some observers question the deliberate pace in the prosecution of the Kennebunk case, but experts say it may be an effort to keep it from ‘spinning out of control.

By Eric Russell
Staff Writer

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"They are not at all looking for headlines. They could care less about that. They want to do what's right for the process, including for the people charged. They're not looking to make a big deal of it because they can," Ruffner said.

Melvyn Zarr, a professor at the University of Maine School of Law, said he doesn't know whether the prosecutors are correct in charging suspects in waves or should have waited to charge them all at once.

"You have to be in the prosecutor's shoes," he said. "It's a function of adequate resources and time. You have to investigate the case. In an ideal world, you would have infinite resources."

Zarr said the case is so unusual that it is hard to analyze at all.

McGettigan, who has been a prosecutor for many years, is now undoubtedly involved in her most high-profile case.

Slattery has been a prosecutor for more than two decades, and has been district attorney since 2010. She succeeded Mark Lawrence, who held the office for eight years.

In her two years as the county's top prosecutor, Slattery has largely stayed out of the media spotlight, except in one drawn-out case in 2011 that involved animal-cruelty charges. Slattery was criticized for accepting a plea agreement.

Ruffner described both women as experienced professionals.

McGettigan, he said, is always very prepared and brings no "baggage" to a case.

"Don't think that you're going to be able to win a case or win an argument because she's not ready," Ruffner said.

Slattery isn't afraid of any trial or argument and doesn't engage in posturing, Ruffner said.

J.P. DeGrinney, a defense attorney who represents several of the suspected clients, said he believes both prosecutors are pursuing the public good as they see it.

"They don't make a lot of noise and get the job done," he said.

The police investigation has drawn its share of speculation.

Churchill said prosecutors usually wait until an investigation is mostly finished before bringing charges. But the investigation in this case has continued since police first searched Wright's home and office in February.

Since Strong and Wright were indicted, Kennebunk police have been issuing court summonses to alleged clients and releasing their names in small batches. So far, 39 names have been released, on Oct. 16 and Oct. 26. Every time new names are released, there is renewed interest in the case.

Lt. Anthony Bean Burpee, head of the Kennebunk Police Department's detective division, said clients are being charged as the evidence is processed and as the prosecution develops probable cause.

"This process can be faster for some individuals than others," Bean Burpee said. "It really is dependent upon how much cooperation investigators are able to obtain and how fast evidence can be processed."

Even the way in which the defendants' names were first released was controversial. After last-minute attempts were made in court to keep the names private, Kennebunk police released the first batch without identifying features such as middle initials, addresses or ages.

That caused confusion and drew criticism from men with the same names as men on the list. A judge then decided that Kennebunk police should re-issue the list with more identifying information.

Given what has happened over the last several months, it's hard to predict what will happen next.

Most lawyers said it's unlikely that any men will take their cases to trial and risk additional scrutiny, although some may want to try to clear their names.

It's much more likely that the cases against Wright and Strong will go to trial.

That would shift attention to Mills, the justice who was brought in to oversee the case after Justice Joyce Wheeler recused herself.

Mills has a reputation as a "highly respected, strict, no-nonsense" judge, said Jim Burke, a University of Maine School of Law professor.

"I'm sure that her name went into the running because it was known she could keep control of the case. She's not going to let things slip up," Burke said.

Burke said he doesn't think that Mills will let the case go on any longer than necessary.

"One of the problems that the state may have with Justice Mills is she may want to move the case along quickly, and if they're not ready to move, it may be dismissed," Burke said. "She does not suffer fools gladly. You'd better do your job right."

He described the case as a "soap opera car wreck."

"You want to have a good judge for those because they're already a circus," Burke said. "You don't want them spinning out of control.

Staff Writers Scott Dolan and Ann S. Kim contributed to this report.


Staff Writer Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

Twitter: @PPHEricRussell


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Additional Photos

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Justine McGettigan

Tim Greenway

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Nancy Mills

Tim Greenway

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Mark Strong Sr.

Tim Greenway

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