PORTLAND — The derailed trial of Mark Strong Sr., the first major courtroom showdown in the Kennebunk prostitution scandal since it broke last year, remained off the tracks Sunday with no clear answer on what’s next.
The state’s highest court had not issued a ruling as of Sunday evening on the prosecution’s appeal of Friday’s decision, dismissing the bulk of the counts against Strong. Justice Nancy Mills had said the case wouldn’t proceed until the appeal had been decided.
A hotline recording told potential jurors Sunday evening to call back at 10 a.m. Monday to learn when, or if, jury selection would resume in York County Superior Court in Alfred.
“I think something will happen before 10 a.m.,” Strong’s lead attorney, Daniel Lilley, said Sunday night. “And I think we’re going to go forward with the trial.”
Lilley said jury selection is nearly complete, with only three more jurors to be seated.
Events on Friday changed the case against Strong, who was 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.
Mills granted a motion by Strong’s attorneys to dismiss 46 of the 59 counts against him, all related to violating the privacy of Wright’s customers for recording them without their knowledge.
That left 13 charges pending against Strong, 57, of Thomaston: 12 counts of promotion of prostitution and a single count of conspiracy to promote prostitution.
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. The case was suspended until the Maine Supreme Judicial Court rules on the 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 jury selection process for the trial also has been muddled. The judge conducted individual juror questioning, called voir dire, behind closed doors for three days last week before the state Supreme 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.
Strong’s attorneys, 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, waiting for the jury selection process to conclude, 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 legal 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.