Strong trial in limbo pending high court decision

By Bane Okholm | Jan 29, 2013
Photo by: Bane Okholm The York County Courthouse in Alfred has been the setting of the high-profile prostitution case since Jan. 22.

Alfred — The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Jan. 29 scheduled oral arguments in the state’s appeal of Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills’ dismissal of 46 invasion of privacy charges against Mark Strong, 57, of Thomaston.

According to the scheduling order, arguments will be heard in Portland on Wednesday, Feb. 13 at 2 p.m.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Jan. 28 allowed Mills the option of proceeding to trial with the 13 charges against Strong related to promotion of prostitution. Mills decided against splitting the charges, which could have led to two trials for Strong.

The scheduling order also announced that the Maine Supreme Judicial Court is inviting testimony, legal opinions, and counsel in the form of amicus curiae briefs “from any interested parties” not involved with the case.

Strong’s defense team will be allowed to augment their previously submitted brief and resubmit by Feb. 7, while any reply brief from the state is due Feb. 11.

The supreme court's decision will hinge on the wording of Maine Criminal Code Chapter 21 subsection 511 part 2, which says that a "'private place' [is] a place where one may reasonably expect to be safe from surveillance, including, but not limited to, changing or dressing rooms, bathrooms and similar places."

York County Assistant District Attorney Patrick Gordon said Jan. 24 that a place where people go to have sex is a place where one can reasonably expect privacy.

Lilley argued people engaged in act of soliciting a prostitute cannot reasonably expect privacy during their illicit activities.

"It just boggles the mind," Lilley said, adding that it would make a "laughingstock of jurisprudence" to consider the johns, many of whom have already been adjudicated as guilty, as victims.

Gordon said the state of being a criminal and victim were not mutually exclusive, citing an abstract example of a drug deal gone wrong, wherein an attempted buyer, if injured, could also be considered a victim.

According to Mills, legislative history "doesn't shed much light" on the issue, as there is no legal precedent in Maine for such a privacy concern.

Complicating matters is Strong's right to a fair and speedy trial. Lilley wrote in a Jan. 25 motion to dismiss the state's appeal against Mills' ruling that the state's actions are "abusive and harassing," adding that Strong's "Constitutional rights are being trampled upon by the state as they place these catch-up procedural games."

Strong trial timeline, Jan. 15 to Jan. 29

Jan. 15

Daniel Lilley, attorney for Mark Strong, makes a motion to change the venue of the trial to Cumberland County, claiming the York County juror pool is “tainted." Lilley also attempts to withdraw from case because Strong is “unable to pay for counsel fees for representation.” Both motions are denied by Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills.

Jan. 18

Mills releases an order concerning media coverage of the trial, which limits the number of media representatives present, and also restricts the number of visual recording devices in the courtroom to one still and one video camera. Mills said in her order that seating in the courtroom during juror selection “will be permitted only to the extent that seating is available.”

Jan. 22

Jury selection begins. Approximately 140 potential jurors arrive at York County Courthouse in Alfred and are sequestered in order to complete an initial questionnaire and undergo intensive questioning with Justice Mills and representatives for both Strong and the state. The Portland Press Herald’s parent company Maine Today Media, Inc. files an appeal against Mills' decision to bar media from observing the process.

Jan. 23

Juror selection continues behind closed doors. The confidential juror questionnaire, which contains questions about moral prohibitions regarding the trial's subject matter as well as witness lists for the defense and prosecution is released online.

Jan. 24

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court halts jury selection until they make a ruling on Maine Today Media, Inc.’s motion regarding public access.

Media representatives are allowed to observe a hearing in which Mills addresses pending motions from both sides. After ruling on several motions, Mills retires to consider whether or not to dismiss the 46 invasion of privacy charges against Strong.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court votes 6-1 to reverse Mills’ ban of media on the jury selection proceedings.

Jan. 25

Mills dismisses the 46 invasion of privacy charges against Strong. In her ruling, Mills said that although patrons of Strong's accused co-conspirator Alexis Wright of Wells may have expected privacy in their dealings, Mills couldn't "find an objective expectation of privacy that society would be prepared to accept."

The state files an appeal of Mills’ decision.

Lilley files a motion to dismiss the state’s appeal.

The state files an objection to Lilley’s motion to dismiss the state’s appeal.

Jan. 28

Lilley associate Tina Nadeau files a brief “in opposition” to the state’s appeal of Mills’ decision to dismiss the 46 invasion of privacy charges. The brief is submitted via email Jan. 27 and hand-delivered to the court Jan. 28.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court rules that Mills must make the decision as to whether to split the charges against Strong and proceed to trial with the promotion of prostitution charges while they debate the state's appeal of Mills’ dismissal of the 46 privacy-related charges.

Jan. 29

According to published reports, Mills said she will not restart the jury selection process and that remaining members of the jury pool will remain on call through March 1. Mills also rules that she will not move forward with Strong's trial until the Maine Supreme Judicial Court makes its ruling on the dismissal of the 46 invasion of privacy charges.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court releases order scheduling hearings on the state's appeal of the 46 invasion of privacy charges against Strong for Feb. 13 at 2:00 p.m., to be held in Portland.

Courier Publications reporter Bane Okholm can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 125 or by email at bokholm@courierpublicationsllc.com.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Jan 30, 2013 09:27

Reading and re-reading this court report makes me dizzy. It seems the prosecutor is trying to make a name for himself with regards to Strong. If the high court has dismissed almost all the charges, why continue and why tie it together with the Madam? Interesting court affairs these days, pun intended.

Mickey McKeever



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