Supreme Court reverses decision to bar public, media from Strong jury selection
Alfred — The Maine Supreme Court on Jan. 24 reversed a decision by Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills to bar public observation of the jury selection process in the state's case against Mark Strong, Sr., 57, of Thomaston.
Strong faces 59 misdemeanor counts accusing him of invasion of privacy, conspiracy, and promoting prostitution.
According to the Supreme Court's decision, concerns that potential juror candor would be reduced by presence of public were "insufficient...to bar the public or media from the entirety of the [jury selection] process."
Justice Donald Alexander was the sole dissenter.
The trial court had previously decided to exercise extensive individual voir dire, a series of oral questioning which is typically supplemented by a prior questionnaire.
The confidential juror questionnaire for the State v. Mark W. Strong listed 40 questions, including rosters of purported johns and witnesses for both defense and prosecution.
Questions included, "Do you have a personal or religious aversion to pornography that would make it difficult to listen to the law and evidence and render a fair and impartial verdict?"
Another question read, "Adultery is defined as having sex with another person who is not your spouse; it is not a crime. Prostitution is defined as having or offering to have sex with another person for money. If the evidence shows that Defendant Mark Strong committed adultery with Alexis Wright, would that fact alone make it difficult for you to find him not guilty of the crime of Promotion of Prostitution?"
According to the Supreme Court's decision, public access to juror selection that has already occurred may be rectified in the form of "appropriately redacted transcripts."
Justice Mills retired in the afternoon of Jan. 24 to consider a motion from Strong's attorney, Daniel Lilley, to dismiss all 47 counts of invasion of privacy and conspiracy.
Mills' decision will hinge on the wording of Maine Criminal Code Chapter 21 subsection 511 part 2, which reads, "As used in this section, 'private place' means 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."
According to York County Assistant District Attorney Patrick Gordon, accused prostitute Alexis Wright used three sites for her solicitation activities: a residence, the Zumba studio, and a 2-room business suite.
Mills said the legislative history "doesn't shed much light" on issue, as there is no legal precedent in Maine for such a privacy concern.
Lilley said 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 pleaded guilty, as victims.
Gordon argued that 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, the fourth amendment protects places, not people, and her decision will be based on whether or not the sites in which the alleged prostitution occurred could be considered residential or commercial, as well as subjective versus "reasonable" expectations of privacy.
A motion filed by Lilley to disclose deals or leniency the prosecution might have granted accused johns was also addressed during the Jan. 24 session.
Gordon said johns who pleaded guilty to one count of soliciting a prostitute were fined based on the number of times they solicited sex from Alexis Wright rather than being charged for each occurrence.
Gordon estimated that many of the accused johns only visited Wright once or twice, although he said one of Wright's clients may have engaged her services as many as 42 times.
Mills ordered that Strong's defense team had a right to see letters that had been sent to the alleged johns informing them of the possibility of the plea agreement.
Gordon filed a motion to suppress characterization of the state, its agents, and Strong's resources during the trial, as he said such mention would sway the jury's emotions.
Gordon specifically referenced such phrases as "the almighty state" and "prosecutors on steroids," which Lilley argued were references to the possibility of overzealous prosecution against Strong.
According to Lilley, 21 investigative agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service and the Secret Service, have been involved in investigating Strong.
Mills sided with state, but said she might revisit her decision if any ulterior motive on the part of investigators becomes apparent as the trial progresses.
The state also made a motion to exclude references to Strong's alleged investigation of Kennebunk Police Department, which hinges on a hard drive that Lilley said was taken in the police raid against Strong.
Mills ruled that such references will be taken on a witness-by-witness basis.
Courier Publications reporter Bane Okholm can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 125 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.