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Ghislaine Maxwell appeal claims she was prosecuted to ‘satisfy public outrage’ over Jeffrey Epstein plea deal, jailhouse death

Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell - Scooter

Prosecutors said that they found this photograph of Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell during the 2019 raid on Epstein’s New York townhouse. (Photo via DOJ)

In the opening salvo of her appeal, Ghislaine Maxwell’s attorneys tried to overturn their client’s convictions by arguing that the government made her a “proxy” for Jeffrey Epstein.

“It did so to satisfy public outrage over an unpopular non-prosecution agreement and the death of the person responsible for the crimes,” Maxwell’s appellate attorney Arthur Aidala wrote in a 113-page legal brief.

At the time of his 2008 plea deal, Epstein agreed to admit to charges of soliciting prostitution of a minor in return for a light sentence and, controversially, a non-prosecution agreement that purported to shield his accused co-conspirators. Federal prosecutors in Florida signed the deal, and a trial judge found that their counterparts in New York were not bound by it.

Maxwell challenges that decision, and others, on appeal.

“In its zeal to pin the blame for its own incompetence and for Epstein’s crimes on Maxwell, the Government breached its promise not to prosecute Maxwell, charged her with time-barred offenses, resurrected and recast decades-old allegations for conduct previously ascribed to Epstein and other named assistants, and joined forces with complainants’ civil attorneys, whose interests were financial, to develop new allegations that would support charges against Maxwell,” the brief states.

More than a year has passed since a federal jury convicted Maxwell of sex trafficking and other charges, for her role procuring girls for Epstein’s predation. Multiple victims testified that Maxwell participated in the abuse by touching their breasts.

Her trial Judge Alison Nathan, who recently received a promotion to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, imposed a 20-year sentence for her “heinous” crimes.

“It is important to emphasize that although Epstein was central to this criminal scheme, Ms. Maxwell is not being punished in place of Epstein or as a proxy for Epstein,” Nathan said at the British woman’s sentencing last June, in a remark Maxwell would turn on its head on appeal months later.

Four women, who were as young as 14 years old at the time of their abuse, testified at Maxwell’s trial. Three of them—”Jane,” “Kate,” and Carolyn—elected to use pseudonyms or their first name on the witness stand. Annie Farmer was the only victim to testify under her true and full name. Maxwell’s lawyers cast this decision as a violation of her right to confront her accusers.

“The result transformed the trial into a form of Kabuki theater designed to remind the jury at every turn that these adult women were being protected because their privacy interests, and not Maxwell’s constitutional right to a public trial, were paramount,” the appellate brief states.

Her lawyers say that the anonymity was clearly a “manipulation” because, shortly after the trial, Carolyn granted an interview to the Daily Mail under her full name: Carolyn Andriano.

Maxwell has long made her complaints about the trial known. She unsuccessfully challenged her conviction following reports that a multiple jurors described themselves as survivors of childhood sexual abuse. One of them told multiple news outlets that he discussed that background with his peers during deliberations.

Seizing upon those reports, Maxwell noted that the juror—identified in court papers as “Juror 50” but named Scotty David—did not disclose his self-identification as a survivor during voir dire, depriving her lawyers of an opportunity to scrutinize potential bias.

“At the hearing, Juror 50 gave a patently absurd explanation for his failure to give truthful answers to multiple questions on the juror questionnaire,” the brief states. “Nevertheless, the court found that Juror 50 testified credibly at the hearing and that Juror 50 would not have been stricken for cause even if he had answered each question on the questionnaire accurately.”

David testified during a post-trial hearing that he made an “inadvertent mistake” while rushing through his juror questionnaire, and Judge Nathan accepted that representation in upholding Maxwell’s conviction.

Before trial began, Maxwell denied that she could get a fair trial given the massive public interest in her case, and her appellate brief delves into that topic.

“As trial approached, the vilification of Maxwell was unprecedented in both scale and severity,” the brief states. “The bipartisan political pressure to obtain a conviction was enormous.”

Maxwell also repeatedly complained about her pre-trial confinement inside Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center. Her lawyers moved repeatedly for Maxwell’s pre-trial release, which the judge rejected four times for fear that she would flee before trial. The defense team kept upping the ante of bond packages meant to secure her presence at trial, but Judge Nathan was unmoved.

“By the time of trial, Maxwell was so disoriented and diminished that she was unable meaningfully to assist in her own defense, much less to testify,” the brief says.

Aidala served as a defense attorney for Harvey Weinstein and is a frequent commentator on various news networks, including the Law&Crime Network.

Read Maxwell’s appellate brief here.

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."