PORTLAND, Maine — Maine’s highest court will expedite an appeal holding up the first major trial in the high-profile Kennebunk prostitution case, scheduling oral arguments on the matter for Feb. 13.
The trial of Mark Strong, who is accused of conspiring with fitness instructor Alexis Wright to run a prostitution business out of a Kennebunk Zumba studio, is on hold until the Maine Supreme Judicial Court rules whether to throw out 46 of the 59 charges against him.
Late Tuesday afternoon, the high court announced it would move quickly on the case and released its schedule for doing so. Prosecutors must file their brief in the case by Feb. 4, the defense must file its brief by Feb. 7, and a second response brief from the state must be turned in by Feb. 11.
Arguments will be heard by the supreme court justices at 2 p.m. Feb. 13.
During a pretrial hearing Friday, Mills dismissed 46 charges of invasion of privacy against Strong, leaving 13 counts of promotion of prostitution remaining against him. That ruling was immediately appealed to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court by the York County district attorney’s office and the state attorney general, bringing the trial to at least a temporary halt before jury selection was even completed.
Strong is accused of working alongside fitness instructor Alexis Wright of Wells to run a prostitution business out of her Kennebunk Zumba studio. The privacy invasion counts are tied to the cases of alleged johns who were videotaped while engaged in sexual acts with Wright without their consent, and Strong’s attorney, Daniel Lilley, successfully argued before the court that individuals taking part in criminal activity could not expect privacy protection.
Lilley requested the trial continue on the 13 remaining prostitution-related counts, but Mills at the time decided to wait until the appeal of the larger group of charges played out at the Law Court.
On Monday, the state supreme court ruled that the decision on whether to split the cases against Strong in two — one immediate trial on the prostitution promotion charges and a potential second trial on 46 privacy invasion charges if the high court overturns Friday’s dismissal — would rest with Mills.
Mills ruled Tuesday that she would keep the entire slate of charges combined, and the trial would not continue until the higher court ruled on the 46 disputed charges.
The judge did allow the case to move forward on what she described as “housekeeping” fronts while the supreme court considered its scheduling Tuesday, however. Mills heard arguments about the exchange of evidence in the case, which has been a bone of contention between defense attorneys and prosecutors since Strong’s October arraignment.
During a morning hearing, defense attorneys argued that electronic evidence being used by prosecutors, including specific emails Strong allegedly sent or received, has not been adequately differentiated from other irrelevant electronic records included on computer hard drives being held as evidence.
Prosecutors countered they still need to see any documents the defense plans to use to indicate that investigating police officers were retaliating against Strong for research he was doing into alleged misconduct in the department.
Both parties have until Feb. 5 to turn over the requested evidence.