Accused sex trafficker Ghislaine Maxwell has asked a federal judge to keep a proposed jury questionnaire and voir dire questions under seal to avoid tainting a jury pool. Federal prosecutors consented to the request, which, if granted, would inject a degree of secrecy in a high-profile case known for decades of official silence, confidentiality and alleged cover-ups.
“The defense respectfully requests that the joint proposed juror questionnaire and joint proposed voir dire be filed under seal to avoid media coverage that may prejudice the jury selection process,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Alison Moe wrote in a two-page memo on Tuesday. “The Government consents to the defense’s request.”
On Wednesday, Maxwell’s lawyer Bobbi Sternheim filed a memo separately requesting “individual sequestered voir dire” and “limited attorney-conducted voir dire” on the basis of the “tsunami” of press coverage the case has engendered.
“A tsunami of reporting in every conceivable form – newspapers, magazines, books, television, radio, video streaming services, podcasts, social media platforms – has broadcast this case locally, nationally, and globally,” the memo states. “Without a doubt, and without any credible evidentiary basis, Ms. Maxwell has been tried, convicted, and condemned in the court of public opinion.”
Slated to stand trial on Nov. 29, Maxwell stands accused of facilitating and participating in Jeffrey Epstein’s sexual abuse of minors going back decades. The allegations of her superseding indictment date back to 1994, well before Epstein copped a controversial plea deal purporting to shield his accused co-conspirators in 2008.
A federal judge ruled that Epstein’s agreement, inked in Florida, did not bind prosecutors in the Southern District of New York from pursuing Maxwell.
The prosecutions of both Epstein and Maxwell were reanimated by the publication of the Miami Herald’s three-part series “Perversion of Justice,” which showed the powerful actors behind Epstein’s 2008 agreement. One of them, former President Donald Trump’s then-Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta, resigned shortly after publication. The paper followed up that series with an open records battle that persuaded the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to open up a largely sealed docket in a civil lawsuit Maxwell’s accuser Virginia Giuffre filed against her in 2015.
As a result of that ruling, Maxwell’s depositions were publicly released. Prosecutors claim that Maxwell perjured herself under questioning, and those allegations will be tried separately from the ones the jury will hear in November.
On Tuesday, the government and defense provided U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan with a roadmap for the autumn trial.
“The Government estimates that it would rest within four weeks from the start of the trial,” prosecutors wrote. “That estimate is conservative, and the Government anticipates that it could rest as early as the third week of trial, provided that the cross examinations of witnesses do not exceed the length of direct examinations. In an abundance of caution, however, the Government projects approximately four weeks for its case in chief.”
Given the anticipated length of trial, prosecutors request that the judge “seat only jurors with availability beyond the Christmas holiday.”
“The defense anticipates it will present a defense case, which it currently estimates will last approximately two weeks,” the filing continues. “That estimate may change after the defense has had an opportunity to review the Government’s witness and exhibit lists which were made available to defense counsel last night after the close of business.”
Judge Nathan previously forced prosecutors to provide Maxwell’s defense team with the “identities of any unnamed co-conspirators” whose names they plan to refer to at trial on Oct. 11. As of September, prosecutors claimed that they only planned to refer to two alleged co-conspirators, but they added that was subject to change.
Read the filing below:
[image via JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images]
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