Published February 19, 2013
ALFRED, Maine – A judge said Tuesday that she wants to resume jury selection as early as Wednesday in the trial of an insurance agent accused of helping a fitness instructor use her Zumba studio as a front for prostitution.
Justice Nancy Mills convened attorneys for Mark Strong and dance instructor Alexis Wright to address several matters including a suggestion by prosecutors of a possible appearance of a conflict of interest.
There was no formal motion by lawyers for Mills to step aside but she discussed concerns of a potential conflict because her sister-in-law, Janet Mills, is Maine's attorney general and because her husband's law firm once represented a police investigator who's expected to testify in Strong's trial.
She said neither instance rises to the level of creating a problem.
"I can act with complete impartiality in this matter," she said.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers supported her decision.
Jury selection has been on hold for more than three weeks in Strong's trial after a judge dismissed 46 counts accusing him of violation of privacy of prostitution clients who were videotaped without their knowledge. The married insurance business owner still faces 13 other counts dealing with promotion of prostitution.
Both Strong, 57, of Thomaston, and Wright, who ran the fitness studio in Kennebunk, have pleaded not guilty. Wright is due to be tried at a later date.
Strong said he helped Wright launch her Pura Vida dance-fitness studio by co-signing for her lease and loaning money that was repaid. He said he didn't know about allegations of prostitution.
The case generated national and international attention, both because of the small-town location and the scope of the alleged operation. A lawyer who has seen the client list says it totals more than 150, including some prominent names.
Mills has tried to tamp down on pre-trial publicity, telling attorneys not to talk to reporters during the jury selection process.
On Tuesday, Strong's lawyer asked her to lift the gag order, citing First Amendment issues. Mills rejected his request, saying her order will be lifted once the jury is seated.
The judge also ruled that the defense cannot call two chief prosecutors to testify. The defense has contended Strong was subjected to selective and overzealous prosecution.