ALFRED, Maine — Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills on Tuesday harshly scolded the defense for defying her order not to speak to the media during the early goings of the court case of a man accused of conspiring with a Kennebunk fitness instructor to run a prostitution business.
Mills read segments of articles published by the Portland Press Herald and television station WGME-13 as examples of comments made Friday by defense attorney Daniel Lilley, who is representing Thomaston businessman Mark Strong in the case. Those comments in part included that prosecutors must “fish or cut bait” and “get off their asses” in a trial that has gone in fits and starts in the past week.
“[Those comments are] just unfortunate and unbecoming for an attorney,” Mills told Lilley on Tuesday. “Any further defiances of my order will be dealt with by me.”
Mills said an email Monday from York County Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan alerted her to published comments made by Lilley and his client.
“We discussed several times the order that the defendant’s counsel and the defendant would not discuss this case with the press at least until the jury was selected,” Mills said. “This material provided to me by Ms. McGettigan shows that that order was not honored.”
McGettigan in court Tuesday called Lilley a “skilled orator” who was intending with his comments to cast blame on prosecutors for the time-consuming jury selection process — which has gone on for more than four days and has been challenged in the Maine Supreme Judicial Court by the Portland Press Herald.
“The court made it crystal-clear more than once when we were back in chambers not to talk to the press before the jury selection was complete,” McGettigan said. “[Lilley's comments] were said with a particular purpose — to reach the jurors, to reach the jurors’ family or reach the jurors’ friends.”
In court on Tuesday, Lilley defended his comments to reporters in the past week, contending he told media representatives little that he hadn’t already suggested during court proceedings.
“I interpreted [the order] to mean discussion of the merits of the case,” Lilley said. “My comments were about procedures and not the substance of the case. I read it as discussing any of the facts of the case. … I think most of it is in the public domain, so I really don’t think we’ve violated the spirit of the order, particularly since the case at that point was in [the hands of] the Law Court.”
The jury selection process continued to be on hold Tuesday while the trial participants awaited word on a Friday appeal still in the hands of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. Mills on Friday dismissed 46 privacy invasion charges against Strong, leaving 13 promotion of prostitution counts against him. Prosecutors immediately appealed that ruling to the state’s highest court.
Strong is accused of running a prostitution business with fitness instructor Alexis Wright out of her Kennebunk Zumba studio. Wright faces a May trial if no plea agreement is reached before then.
The pool of jury candidates in the trial, which started out as a group of more than 140 and has been whittled to just more than 20, remains on the hook until the end of February, Mills said Tuesday. The process, which still must settle on 12 final jurors and as many as four alternates, is expected to be continued after the high court rules on Friday’s appeal.