ALFRED — Maine Supreme Court Chief Justice Leigh Saufley has stopped proceedings in the Kennebunk prostitution case, according to a clerk at the York County court.
Justice Saufley stopped the proceedings because of arguments that the secret jury selection in the case was improper.
The full court is expected to review the case later Thursday.
Earlier Thursday, the attorney representing an alleged conspirator in the high-profile Kennebunk prostitution case told the court he’s concerned that so-called johns were offered lesser punishments in exchange for testifying against his client.
In addition, prosecutors in the trial’s early going asked the judge to block discussion of Strong’s allegations of retaliation against him by Kennebunk police.
Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills held a hearing on a slate of preliminary motions in the trial of Thomaston businessman Mark Strong late Thursday morning. The pretrial motions were argued before the lengthy jury selection process in the case was complete, but the hearing represented a sign that the presentation of evidence may get under way before the end of the day.
“I have been told a decision can be expected midday [on jury selection],” Mills said.
The first of the preliminary motions fielded by Mills was made by Strong’s defense attorney, Daniel Lilley, who requested a record of “inducements, promises, compensations, leniency or rewards” offered to the 18 men who have pleaded guilty to paying for sex in the case and who are listed as witnesses for the prosecution.
Lilley told the court that the men convicted of engaging a prostitute pleaded guilty to only one charge when “evidence would suggest several criminal counts.” He said lawyers for other suspected johns have indicated that the York County District Attorney’s Office offered to drop additional counts in exchange for testimony against Strong.
“I have lawyers telling me the deal is, you have to come in now and plead now so you can testify in this trial, and if you don’t do that, you’re going to be charged with more crimes,” Lilley told the court.
A representative from the district attorney’s office said all the accused johns were allowed to plea to only one count of engaging a prostitute, with the understanding that each man’s fine would be larger or smaller depending on how often the individual met with the alleged prostitute.
Mills told the prosecutors to provide Lilley with the letters they provided the individuals suspected of engaging a prostitute in the case containing whatever plea deals being offered.
Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan told the court she had to be clear with the suspects that they could indeed be called as witnesses, but no special deal made based on their agreement to testify.
Prosecutors, in turn, filed motions with the court to block discussion in the trial of Strong’s financial hardships or his allegations that Kennebunk police targeted him in retaliation for research Strong, a private investigator, was doing into alleged misconduct in the department.
Strong, who is accused of helping fitness instructor Alexis Wright run a prostitution business from her Kennebunk Zumba studio, has maintained that he was drawn into the case as payback in part for investigating a 2009 affair between town police officer Audra Presby and a superior. Presby played a lead role in the department’s investigation of the alleged prostitution operation.
Strong has said he was also researching a 2011 police shooting in the town.
Kennebunk police Lt. Anthony Bean Burpee has said the police action, in which an officer shot a woman who was approaching him with a knife, was deemed justified by the Maine attorney general’s office, while Presby was disciplined at the time for the affair.
Mills agreed with prosecutors that discussion of Strong’s financial situation would be largely irrelevant in the trial, but said bringing up the defendant’s alleged investigation into the department is fair game.
“I would say at this point that this is cross-examination material for Officer Presby, certainly, with regard to her credibility, with regard to her bias,” Mills said.
At noon, Mills called for a brief recess to read case law related to Lilley’s renewed motion to drop all charges of invasion of privacy and conspiracy to invade privacy against his client. Those charges make up all but 13 of the 59 charges against Strong, with the rest being counts of promotion of prostitution.