January 25, 2013

Our View: Court makes right decision on Zumba trial jury selection

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court made the right call in its 6-1 ruling, opening jury selection in the prostitution-related "Zumba" case in York County.

The state's highest court agreed with the Portland Press Herald and found that the public (which includes the news media) has a right to witness the jury selection process, just as it has with the testimony and arguments and the rest of the public trial.

The court overturned a decision reached by Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills, who found that the sensitive nature of the case and the unprecedented amount of media interest required that the questioning that leads to jury selection be held outside the public's view.

There is nothing typical about Mark Strong's case. The Thomaston businessman has been accused of conspiring with a prostitute to sell sex for money and spying on the encounters.

The case drew worldwide press attention, especially as the names of alleged clients have been dribbled out by the Kennebunk police, creating tension and embarrassment for dozens of clients and their families.

Some of those clients are expected to testify at the Strong trial, and the sexual nature of the alleged crimes are bound to make many in the court room blush at some point during the proceedings.

But there is not an anti-embarrassment exemption in the Constitution. Just because a case has an unusual amount of public interest doesn't mean that it should be conducted with an unusual amount of secrecy.

Justice Mills wrote that questioning potential jurors in public could lead them to answer with less candor than they would have in private, but the same could be said for every other person involved in a court case.

Trials are public in our society for a good reason -- because we believe that secret trials are dangerous. That commitment may not always be convenient, but it is worth the trouble.

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