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Maine High Court Justices Hear Privacy Arguments in Zumba Case
02/13/2013   Reported By: Patty B. Wight

The high profile Zumba prostitution case has made its way to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which heard oral arguments today on an appeal in the case. The justices have been asked to consider whether to reinstate 46 invasion of privacy counts against Mark Strong Sr., a Thomaston businessman accused of helping run the alleged prostitution business out of a Zumba studio in Kennebunk. Patty Wight reports.

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Mark Strong's trial was scheduled to begin nearly a month ago for his role as an alleged partner in a one-woman prostitution business. But a series of delays has put the trial in limbo.

Before an unsually lengthy jury selection was even complete, Justice Nancy Mills granted a motion from the defense to drop 46 invasion of privacy counts against Mark Strong, who allegedly helped videotape prostitution encounters. That left just 13 misdemeanor counts - for promoting prostitution - intact. Prosecutors appealed, halting the trial for two weeks until the Maine Supreme Court could hear their argument.

Patrick Gordon: "Patrick Gordon. I represent the state of Maine the appellant."

Justice Leigh Saufley: "Thank you Mr. Gordon, you may proceed."

Assistant District Attorney Patrick Gordon set out to convince the justices why the invastion of privacy charges should be reinstated, and chose to open his oral argument by setting up a scene from a romance novel, describing a man arranging and meeting a secret lover and ultimately engaging in sexual relations.

"No one would argue for a minute that that person didn't expect privacy there. So why would it be any different if money changed hands?" Gordon said. "It's the exact same behavior, it's the exact same relations. It's the exact same amount of vulnerability. It's the exact same thing that our society has sought to protect."

This is the question for the justices to decide: When exactly should someone reasonably expect privacy? "Reasonably" is the key word here, and Justice Ellen Gorman challenged Gordon's logic.

"Well, Mr. Gordon, in this day and age, if you're going to obtain sexual contact with someone you are paying for that contact, shouldn't you expect there to be surveillance, if only for the safety of the person who's providing the services?"

For 15 minutes, Gordon answered a barrage of questions from the justices, and it was Chief Justice Leigh Saufley who asked the overarching question of whether the right to privacy changes when money changes hands for a sexual act.

"So Mr. Gordon, let me take you right back to the language of the statute. Are you asking that this court finds that a person who goes to the place of business of the prostitute is a person that the legislature recognized as someone that is entitled to privacy, with a reasonable expectation that there will be no surveillance?"

"Yes, Your Honor," Gordon replied.

Next it was defense attorney Dan Lilley's turn to argue that the law court should uphold the Superior Court's decision to dismiss the invasion of privacy charges. Justice Jon Levy questioned Lilley about who should have the authority to decide what is a "reasonable expectation."

"Where does the judge get off announcing what the community's - or where do we get off announcing what people should expect? Isn't that something for the community, that is to say, the jury, to tell us?" Levy said.

Lilley replied that Maine's privacy law was enacted to prevent intrusion into places that are justifiably expected to be private, and that does not include places where sex is offered in exchange for money.

Justice Leigh Saufley then cited the lower court's finding when it dismissed the charges. "And that's exactly what Justice Mills determined - sex for money doesn't bring a justifiable expectation of privacy," she said.

Now the justices will decide if they agree with that determination. Once they reach an opinion, the trial will presumably get underway, and Mark Strong will either face 59 misdemeanor charges, or just 13.



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