New judge assigned to prostitution case

Posted Sept. 25, 2012, at 7:26 p.m.

ALFRED, Maine — A veteran judge has been selected as the newest justice to oversee a highly publicized prostitution case.

Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills was appointed Monday, according to Mary Ann Lynch who is the government and media counsel for the Maine Judicial Branch.

Mills replaces Justice Joyce Wheeler who was specially assigned to the high-profile case because judges in York County might know some of the witnesses — who could number more than 100. Wheeler, who normally works out of Cumberland County, subsequently recused herself from presiding over the case of Mark W. Strong Sr. of Thomaston who is charged with promotion of prostitution.

Wheeler did not give a reason for her decision. Lynch noted judges are not required to state a reason when they recuse themselves and that it is not unusual for judges to recuse themselves without a reason.

Mills generally hears cases from Cumberland County Superior Court in Portland and Kennebec County Superior Court in Augusta, Lynch said.

Mills has been a Superior Court judge since 1993 and served as chief justice of the Superior Court system from 2001 through 2004. She had earlier served as a district court judge and an assistant district attorney in Kennebec and Somerset counties, according to an article from the state government website.

On Sept. 14, both Strong’s defense attorney Daniel Lilley and York County Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan asked Wheeler to remove herself from the case because a law clerk who works for judges in Cumberland County, including Wheeler, is married to an assistant attorney general who is involved in the prosecution.

Lilley said Wheeler did notify him that the reason raised at the Sept. 14 hearing was not the reason she decided to recuse herself.

Strong, 56, who is the owner of the Strong Insurance Company in Thomaston, was arrested in July and charged with Class D promotion of prostitution, which could result in a maximum penalty of a year in jail.

Strong has pleaded not guilty to the charge. Investigators have said that Strong has a significant business and personal connection with a woman who runs a Zumba dance studio in Kennebunk, who police allege was involved in prostitution. Neither that woman nor anyone else other than Strong has been charged in connection with the case. Lilley has said, however, that there are 150 to 200 names on a client list of the woman who is accused of running the prostitution operation.

Lilley had sought a dismissal of the charge at the Sept. 14 hearing, citing the failure of the prosecution to turn evidence over to him. Wheeler rejected the request but ordered the district attorney’s office and attorney general’s office to turn over the information as soon as possible.

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