PORTLAND, Maine – Maine's highest court on Friday declined to reinstate 46 invasion of privacy counts against an insurance business owner accused of helping a Zumba fitness instructor run a prostitution business in the seaside town of Kennebunk.
In its unanimous decision, the Supreme Judicial Court agreed with the trial judge's ruling that prostitution clients don't have privacy rights under a state law that protects people from surveillance in places like dressing rooms.
Mark Strong Sr., 57, of Thomaston, was accused of viewing sex videos featuring unsuspecting prostitution clients, and those are charges are now dismissed. He still faces 13 other counts dealing with promotion of prostitution.
The state supreme court worked on an expedited schedule because jury selection in Strong's trial has been on hold in York County.
Lawyers for both Strong and fitness instructor Alexis Wright were asked to report to court Tuesday in Alfred to meet with the judge to talk about how the case will proceed. The earliest jury selection could resume in Strong's case is Wednesday.
The dismissed counts were 45 violation of privacy counts and one count of conspiracy to commit violation of privacy. All were misdemeanors.
Sarah Churchill, Wright's lawyer, said Friday that the same 46 counts against her client will be dismissed as well. Wright will be tried later.
Both have pleaded not guilty.
Strong's lawyer, Dan Lilley, had attacked prosecutors over the privacy claims, saying lawmakers never intended to protect criminals from surveillance.
But Assistant York County District Attorney Patrick Gordon argued that the same state privacy law that specifically protects innocent people from surveillance while changing clothes in locker rooms and dressing rooms also protects people engaging in sex in a private setting — regardless of whether money changes hands.
On Friday, the state supreme court ruled that prostitution clients don't qualify as "persons entitled to privacy" under the state law.
"Places of prostitution and people who knowingly frequent them to engage a prostitute are not sanctioned by society. Accordingly, it is objectively unreasonable for a person who knowingly enters a place of prostitution for the purpose of engaging a prostitute to expect that society recognizes a right to be safe from surveillance while inside," Justice Jon Levy wrote in the ruling.
The case has generated national and international media attention.
Law enforcement officials say Wright kept meticulous records suggesting the sex acts generated $150,000 over 18 months. Lawyers say the list included 150 clients, some of them prominent.
Strong has acknowledged having a physical relationship with Wright after helping her launch her Pura Vida fitness studio by co-signing her lease and lending her money that she repaid with interest. Strong said he never paid her for sex and was unaware of any prostitution.
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