ALFRED — A judge on Friday dropped most of the charges against a figure in a prostitution scandal centered on a Zumba studio, prompting another appeal, more jury selection delays and defense accusations of prosecution “shenanigans.”
Justice Nancy Mills dismissed 46 of 59 misdemeanor counts against Mark Strong Sr., a day after the state’s highest court ruled the closed jury selection process had to be opened to the public.
Prosecutors appealed the dismissal, bringing the proceeding to an abrupt halt. Remaining members of the jury pool were sent home Friday, just as they had been the day before.
Strong had pleaded not guilty to all the counts, including conspiring with dance instructor Alexis Wright, who stands accused of using her Kennebunk studio as a prostitution front.
Prosecutors say prostitution clients were videotaped without their knowledge, and all the dismissed charges relate to invasion of privacy.
Strong’s attorneys had argued that people engaged in committing a crime — in this case paying for sex — have no right to privacy under a state law aimed at protecting innocent people in dressing rooms and locker rooms. Mills agreed to dismiss the counts, leaving 13 counts related to promotion of prostitution.
Lawyers for the state said they would appeal the mass dismissal to the state supreme court. That drew the ire of Strong’s attorneys, who have pressed for a speedy trial.
Tina Nadeau, one of Strong’s lawyers, said the appeal will result in a delay that would be prejudicial to Strong. Potential jurors spent much of Friday waiting for a fourth day in the courtroom basement and she said they might blame the defendant for delays.
“There’s no doubt they could take it out on him,” she told the judge. “Every minute that we’re sitting here, his rights are being violated.”
Dan Lilley, Strong’s other lawyer, said there was little chance that the supreme court would reinstate the dismissed charges, and he asked that trial on the remaining counts proceed.
He accused prosecutors of “shenanigans” and didn’t hold back on his opinion of the appeal: “We think it’s frivolous.”
Strong, who’s married, has acknowledged having a physical relationship with Wright after helping her launch her Pure Vida fitness studio by co-signing for her lease and loaning money that was repaid with interest. He said he was unaware of any prostitution and did nothing wrong.
Police said Wright videotaped many of the encounters without clients’ knowledge and kept records suggesting the sex acts generated $150,000 over 18 months.
Wright, who also has pleaded not guilty, faces 106 counts including prostitution and invasion of privacy for acts performed in her dance studio and in a rented office. She’ll be tried later.
Strong’s trial has been moving in fits and starts.
On Thursday, members of the jury pool were sent home after the Maine Supreme Judicial Court stopped the closed-door selection process in response to a constitutional challenge by the Portland Press Herald. In a 6-1 ruling, the court ordered the remainder of the process in York County Superior Court to be opened.
No jurors have been seated out of the original pool of more than 140.
Mills had been conducting questioning of potential jurors behind closed doors because of potentially embarrassing questions focusing on views on sex, adultery, pornography and prostitution. But the high court said that wasn’t reason enough to close the proceedings.