Friday, January 25, 2013

Maine High Court Orders Jury Selection Open to Press

Portland Press Herald
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Maine Supreme Court this week voted 6-1 to open to the press and public voir dire proceedings in the high-profile Kennebunk Zumba prostitution case, the Portland Press Herald, which asked the High Court to unlock the jury selection proceedings, reported.

In the10-page decision in In re Maine Today Media, Inc., State of Maine v. Mark Strong (Case No. 2013-ME-12) written by Chief Justice Leigh Saufley, the High Court reversed the decision by presiding York County Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills to close the jury selection proceedings to the media and public. Justice Mills had expressed concern about the prospective jurors' privacy rights and possible intimidation if they were grilled in open court about the case.

The Maine Supreme Court decision, in which Justice Donald Alexander was the lone dissenter, not only ordered the lower court to open the remainder of the jury selection process to the public, but also to release transcripts of the closed-door inquiry of prospective jurors that began Tuesday, the Press Herald reported. The United States Supreme Court, in cases such as Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court of California, Riverside County, 464 U.S. 501 (1984), has found a First Amendment right to attend voir dire proceedings at criminal trials.

The juror questionnaire in the highly publicized case elicited opinions from the would-be fact-finders on whether prostitution should be legalized, whether as jurors they would be able to watch videotapes of sexual liaisons and what exposure, if any, to pretrial publicity they had encountered. The 57-year-old Strong, prosecutors allege, was the business partner of Alexis Wright, who owned the Kennebunk Zumba exercise studio out of which authorities charge the defendants ran a prostitution operation. The 30-year-old Wright is scheduled to go on trial in May, facing 106 criminal counts, according to the Press Herald.

Chief Justice Saufley wrote: "We vacate the court’s order barring the public from the entirety of the

voir dire process. The matter is remanded for the trial court to conduct the
remaining voir dire in a presumptively public manner, exercising its considerable
discretion to prevent the dissemination of sensitive juror information. The public’s
access to the jury selection that has already occurred can be addressed, again at the
court’s discretion, by the release of appropriately redacted transcripts."


The trial court today dismissed 46 of the 59 charges Strong faces.
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