ALFRED — The defense and the judge aren’t happy with delays in the trial of the business partner in a prostitution scandal at a Zumba studio. Prosecutors aren’t happy, either, after the judge dismissed 46 of 59 charges.
But the unhappiest group of all may the remaining members of the jury pool, who were hidden away in the courthouse basement over four days of proceedings last week.
“They hate waiting,” said jury expert Valerie Hans of Cornell University Law School. “I’m thinking jurors would rather be in a courtroom listening to really challenging and difficult testimony rather than just waiting around.”
The four-day jury selection in the trial of Mark Strong Sr. moved in fits and starts last week with delays caused by a pair of appeals to the state supreme court. It was unclear whether the process would resume for a fifth day on Monday.
Strong’s lawyers pleaded with the judge to speed things along Friday after prosecutors appealed the judge’s decision to dismiss 46 charges. They feared that the jurors could make Strong the target of their frustration when the trial gets under way in earnest.
“There’s no doubt they could take it out on him,” defense lawyer Tina Nadeau told the judge in York County Superior Court.
Strong, 57, of Thomaston, was originally charged with 59 misdemeanor counts including conspiring with dance instructor Alexis Wright who’s accused of using her Kennebunk dance studio as a prostitution front.
Prosecutors say prostitution clients were videotaped without their knowledge, and the dismissed charges related to invasion of privacy. The remaining 13 counts focus on prostitution.
The first delay came Thursday when the Portland Press Herald sued over the judge’s closed-door questioning of more than 140 potential jurors. The state supreme court ordered the judge to conduct the process in open court.
Remaining members of the jury pool reported back to duty Friday, only to be sent home again because of the state’s appeal of the dismissal of charges.
It was unclear when, or if, the state supreme court planned to schedule arguments on the latest appeal. Until then, the jury selection remains on hold.
Hans, a Cornell law school professor who has surveyed jurors on their experiences, said the judge in such cases can appease prospective jurors by keeping them updated on the proceedings, and explaining the importance of their job.
Even then, prospective jurors and jurors have limits to their patience, though she said there’s no research to suggest that they’d punish a defendant for wasting their time.
As for the prospective jurors, they’re off-limits to reporters, so no one really knows what they’re thinking.
Strong, a married insurance agent, has acknowledged having a physical relationship with Wright after helping her launch her Pura Vida fitness studio by co-signing her lease and loaning her money that she repaid with interest. He said he never paid her for sex and was unaware of any prostitution.
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 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.