Judge denies motion to dismiss in prostitution caseSuperior Court Justice Nancy Mills named to preside over case
Alfred — A judge on Friday, Sept. 14, denied a defense motion in York County Superior Court to dismiss the charge of promotion of prostitution against Thomaston insurance company owner Mark W. Strong Sr., who did not attend the hearing.
Justice Joyce Wheeler said there was no evidence of bad faith by the prosecutors in spite of their not having turned over discovery material in the case in a timely manner to the defense attorney, Daniel G. Lilley.
"It's not dismissal at this stage," Wheeler said. "However, all discovery should be turned over to Mr. Strong as soon as possible," she said.
The defense also failed in an effort to force Wheeler to step down in a motion of recusal. Moments before the debate on discovery began Friday, Lilley and York County Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan challenged Wheeler to recuse herself because one of her law clerks is married to a court officer involved in the investigation of the Strong case.
Assistant Attorney General Gregg Bernstein also asked Wheeler to recuse herself.
The justice replied that while she did have the law clerk in question working for her, she also had six law clerks whose duties are divided up according to workloads and geographic areas.
She said the law clerk in question has not been assigned to the case, and that she would not discuss the case with him.
"I have as much of an obligation to recuse myself as not to recuse myself," she said.
"I have no economic interest in this case, and I can sit with impartiality," she said, before denying the motion for recusal.
On Thursday, Sept. 20, however, less than a week after the hearing, Wheeler reversed her ruling and agreed to step down without giving a reason.
Mary Ann Lynch, a spokesperson for the Maine Judicial Branch, said Monday, Sept. 24, that Superior Court Chief Justice Thomas Humphrey, who originally had assigned Wheeler, has now assigned the case to Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills, who normally presides over Cumberland County and Kennebec County cases
Lynch said that judges are not required to give reasons for recusing themselves.
Strong, 57, a resident of Knox Street in Thomaston, was arrested July 10 by Maine State Police and charged with promotion of prostitution at two studios in Kennebunk. The arrest warrant was issued following a five-month investigation that was begun by the Kennebunk Police Department and later involved the Maine State Police's major crimes unit.
Strong was taken to Knox County Jail and made bail, set at $5,000 cash, later that afternoon.
Strong was originally scheduled to appear in Biddeford District Court, but his case was moved to York County Superior Court in Alfred when his attorney requested a jury trial, scheduled for Oct. 4. That court date is still on the docket.
Defense attorney Lilley subsequently filed a motion to dismiss the charges because the prosecution had violated a state law that discovery of evidence should be made to a defendant within 10 days.
"It has now been two months, and I haven't seen one paper from the prosecution, and they haven't returned phone calls," Lilley said. "Discovery should have been given to us by Aug. 10."
He said he did not get any calls returned from the district attorney's office until this week, when he was allowed to see the quantity of evidence at the Kennebunk Police Department, but Lilley said he was not allowed to examine it.
McGettigan said the prosecution was not trying to keep Lilley from the evidence, but that the evidence was so voluminous that her office was waiting for the best way to provide him with information.
She denied that her office was practicing "selective prosecution" and said it would take Lilley six months to review the material. She said she had been unaware that Lilley had been trying to call her.
At one point, Lilley noted the absurdity of the district attorney's office and the attorney general's office all having engaged on one defendant with a minor charge.
"They've charged my client with promotion of prostitution but produced no prostitute and no johns," he said, "and a ton of publicity from affidavits and press conferences from the Kennebunk Police Department."
He said the delay is hurting his client, who is "getting killed in the media."
"The state is overdue in providing material. It's gone dark on me. No communication," Lilley said.
So far, Strong is the only person charged in the case, but police say the investigation is ongoing and further charges are expected to be filed.
Bernstein of the state's financial crimes division testified that he had joined the case just two or three weeks before but had already seen large amounts of records retrieved from the computers in the dance studio of its owner, which also turned up bank records, 500 pages of documents, and videos of the owner engaged in sexual acts, according to the police affidavit.
Attorney Sarah Churchill, who represents the dance studio owner, asked for two weeks to review the bank records of her client. Wheeler said copies of the bank records should go to Churchill and Lilley.
In an effort to keep salacious material in the evidence from circulating in the public, Wheeler imposed an oral order for the parties involved not to share publicly information from the files, and said she would issue a protective order within a week.
Meanwhile, she wants the prosecution to turn the evidence over to the defense as soon as possible.
Courier Publications reporter George Chappell can be reached at 207-594-4401, ext. 117, or firstname.lastname@example.org.