PORTLAND, Maine — A Superior Court judge on Friday denied defense attorney Daniel Lilley’s motion to withdraw from the Kennebunk prostitution case, saying she should have been told earlier if his client could not afford his services.
That ruling cements Lilley’s place defending Mark Strong, 57, against 59 prostitution-related counts in a trial that will begin in York County on Tuesday. The hearing on Lilley’s motion to withdraw came on the heels of more than two hours of settlement discussions among Lilley’s attorneys, prosecutors and a judge behind closed doors, but the sides did not reach a plea agreement.
Justice Nancy Mills denied Lilley’s request to withdraw in part because she didn’t believe his client Strong had the training to defend himself, which he was requesting to do. During a brief hearing in Cumberland County Superior Court, Mills also argued she was first informed of Strong’s financial difficulties during a Tuesday hearing, when the general extent of the charges and trial schedule had been public for weeks.
Strong is accused of conspiring with Alexis Wright of Wells to run a prostitution business out of her Kennebunk fitness and Zumba studio. Both Strong and Wright, who is facing 106 counts tied to both prostitution and tax evasion charges, have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Mills said Friday she set the case schedule in part based on “Mr. Strong’s consistent and forceful insistence on a speedy trial.”
Lilley told the judge his client can no longer afford his services, and faces an uphill battle defending himself against what the attorney described as the state’s unlimited resources. He said at least six different state attorneys have filed motions in the case and six investigating agencies have participated in the investigation.
York County Assistant District Attorney Justina McGettigan, who is heading the prosecution team, told the court Friday she has added 18 men convicted of engaging a prostitute to a prosecution witness list that already included at least 30 law enforcement representatives and experts. Lilley said he expected that list to grow to as large as 80 witnesses called by prosecutors.
“We find ourselves in a ‘David and Goliath’ scenario against a state with unlimited resources, and which has brought most to bear,” Lilley told the court. “The prosecution believes that this trial will go two to three weeks. That’s usually a time frame reserved in this state for murder cases.”
Because Strong owns his home, even though he has a mortgage on it, he does not qualify for a court-appointed lawyer or court-appointed experts, the defense attorney said.
“The devastation of the charges against my client and his … economic well-being have been substantial,” Lilley told the court Friday, pointing out that when he was first hired Strong needed defense against only one misdemeanor charge. “Unfortunately this case blossomed and became a great deal larger when that one count grew to 59 counts.”
In his written motion to withdraw, Lilley told the court he was due to undergo surgery, thus limiting his time to prepare for the case, and that Strong is asking to represent himself in the trial.
Lilley told Mills on Friday he made the motion reluctantly. After leaving the courthouse, Lilley told reporters the judge’s denial of his request to withdraw was bittersweet.
“I’m pleased I’m going to stay on the case, but it’s difficult to go into a trial like this without nearly the resources necessary to fight the charges,” he said.
Lilley also said the reason he did not bring up Strong’s financial difficulties earlier was that he believed a previous motion to suppress evidence — arguing that evidence seized from his client was done so according to a wrongfully granted search warrant — would be successful and eliminate the need for a trial. That motion, along with a motion to dismiss the charges, was denied by Mills.
Strong said little to reporters outside the courthouse, responding to a question of whether he was happy Lilley was still on his case with a one-word answer: “Certainly.”
Strong, who has made few public statements since he was first charged in relation to the case last July, said more in reply to a question about how he planned to proceed in the trial without money to pay for expert witnesses.
“I’m doing the best I can with what I’ve got to work with,” he said.
Before the hearing on the withdrawal motion, Strong and his lawyer met with prosecutors and a judge to discuss a possible settlement to the case, which has drawn international attention. The conference, at the Cumberland County courthouse in Portland, was not open to the public or media.
Lawyers came out of the conference without announcing a plea and entered the courtroom for the hearing on the motion for Lilley to withdraw.
Earlier this week, Mills denied a motion from Lilley to delay the start of the trial until Feb. 19 and to move the venue of the trial, but she said she would wait to rule on his motion to withdraw as Strong’s attorney until after hearing from Strong himself.
On Friday morning, Strong was present for the hearing, but did not address Mills in the courtroom.
More than 60 men and one woman have been charged thus far with engaging a prostitute in connection to the case.
Wright will be tried separately in May.
BDN reporter Stephen Betts contributed to this report.
Watch bangordailynews.com for updates.
An earlier version of this story contained an error. The defendant's name is Mark Strong, not Robert Strong.