ALFRED, Maine (AP) — The remaining jury selection in the trial of the first major figure in a prostitution scandal centered on a Zumba studio in Kennebunk must be opened to the public, the state's highest court ruled Thursday.
Members of the jury pool were sent home after the Maine Supreme Judicial Court stopped the closed process in response to a constitutional challenge by the Portland Press Herald. In a 6-1 ruling, the state Supreme Court later ordered the remainder of the process in York County Superior Court to be opened.
No jurors had been seated out of the original pool of more than 140.
Mark Strong Sr., of Thomaston, faces 59 misdemeanor counts including conspiring with dance instructor Alexis Wright, who's accused of using her Kennebunk fitness studio as a front for prostitution. Both have pleaded not guilty.
Justice Nancy 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.
"The matter is remanded for the trial court to conduct the remaining voir dire in a presumptively public manner, exercising its considerable discretion to prevent the dissemination of sensitive juror information," Chief Justice Leigh Saufley wrote.
It was unclear when jury selection would resume.
With potential jurors sent home Thursday, the judge weighed several pretrial motions, including one asking her to dismiss 47 of the counts against Strong that relate to invasion of privacy of people prosecutors say were prostitution clients videotaped without their knowledge.
Defense lawyer Daniel Lilley told the judge that people engaged in criminal activity have no right to privacy under a state law aimed at protecting privacy of innocent people in restrooms, locker rooms and dressing rooms.
"The statute doesn't protect criminals and make criminals victims," Lilley said, telling the judge that the charges would make Maine "the laughingstock of jurisprudence."
The judge didn't immediately rule on the motion.
Responding to other requests, the judge said she'll allow the defense to explore possible bias of an investigator from the Kennebunk Police Department but won't allow the defense to cast the case as a David versus Goliath scenario with regards to the vast resources used to target Strong, an insurance agent.
The judge also ordered the state to turn over letters that were sent to john suspects. Lilley contends prosecutors sweetened plea bargains to ensure convictions of 18 men in time for them to testify against Strong.
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 allegations of prostitution and did nothing wrong.
Police said Wright videotaped many of the encounters without her 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 the rented office. She'll be tried later.
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