WASHINGTON — Lawyers for Ghislaine Maxwell, the jailed alleged madam to disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, asked an appellate court Tuesday to block the release of a transcript of a controversial deposition on grounds it prejudices her right to a fair trial.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit heard a challenge to a July ruling by U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska that there is an overriding public interest in releasing the deposition given by Maxwell in a civil lawsuit settled in 2015. The suit involved Epstein victim Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who alleged she suffered abuse and sex trafficking by Maxwell and Epstein.
After two and a half hours, the three-judge panel appeared split, with presiding Judge Jose Cabranes not signaling a viewpoint and the other two seeming to stake out opposite views on Maxwell’s appeal. The judges did not rule from the bench and opted for issuing a written decision later.
The lower court judge, Preska, ruled that the public’s right to know outweighed Maxwell’s claim that the documents, including depositions of central players in the Epstein saga, would prove embarrassing or interfere with ongoing legal matters. Maxwell was arrested in early July on multiple criminal charges tied to the alleged abuse of three girls in the Epstein orbit. She was denied bail and awaits federal trial.
Adam Mueller, a lawyer for Maxwell, argued Tuesday that in other matters in the civil case, lawyers had been provided relevant excerpts from the transcript and not the entire transcript. Releasing the entire transcript unnecessarily violates Maxwell’s right to privacy, he said.
Maxwell relied on the presumption that her testimony would be shielded by a protective order in the case barring the release of the testimony, Mueller said. Her defense would have taken a different approach to answering questions if she had believed the testimony might be released publicly, Mueller added.
Arguing for Giuffre, prominent attorney David Boies argued Preska was correct in determining the documents are public records and that Maxwell’s defense had not, in July or Tuesday, outlined specific concerns about specific parts of the 418-page deposition transcript.
“The burden was on Ms. Maxwell,” he said.
That didn’t win over Judge Rosemary Pooler, who peppered him with questions about why his client should have any say in matters settled in 2017.
But when asked by the judge, Cabranes, whether Maxwell had denied knowledge of sexual abuse of “underage minors,” Maxwell’s lawyer declined to answer.
“I’ve been trying to speak in generalities,” Mueller said, noting the transcript was still sealed. “I’m hesitant to answer.”
The request to unseal Maxwell’s transcript was part of a larger lawsuit brought by the Miami Herald to get documents in the Maxwell-Giuffre case unsealed and released to the public.
“Because these are judicial documents, the presumption of access applies,” Christine Walz, the lawyer representing the Miami Herald, told the court Tuesday.
Pooler praised the reporting by Herald reporter Julie K. Brown but suggested that Maxwell might have also been harmed by Epstein.
“Ms. Maxwell may be a victim herself,” Pooler said.
“Whether Ms. Maxwell is a victim or not is irrelevant to the issue,” Walz replied, adding that the Herald does not believe Maxwell is a victim.
The appeals court later heard a request by Maxwell’s lawyers asking to consolidate the appeal of the deposition release of with an appeal of a decision by the judge in Maxwell’s criminal case to prevent sharing of information to participants in the civil case.
Federal prosecutors confirmed to the judges Tuesday that they were concerned that release of information about criminal evidence to participants in the civil case would potentially compromise ongoing investigations related to Epstein and Maxwell.
The Herald’s “Perversion of Justice” series in November 2018 spotlighted the extraordinarily lenient deal Epstein received to avoid a long federal jail sentence and resulted in the July 2019 resignation of Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, who was the U.S. attorney responsible for approving Epstein’s arrangement. Acosta resigned two days after Epstein’s arrest in summer 2019. Epstein died in a Manhattan jail cell a month later, his death ruled a suicide by hanging.
Epstein’s death came one day after the first trove of documents was unsealed from the lawsuit between Giuffre and Maxwell. Those documents revealed the names of numerous prominent men Giuffre said Epstein and Maxwell directed her to have sex with, including former Maine Sen. George Mitchell, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Hyatt hotels magnate Tom Pritzker, modeling scout Jean-Luc Brunel and hedge fund manager Glenn Dubin.
Giuffre has also previously said that she was directed to have sex with Prince Andrew and prominent attorney Alan Dershowitz. All of the men have denied the claims, and Dershowitz and Giuffre have filed defamation lawsuits against each other.
Following Epstein’s arrest, Maxwell had largely disappeared from public view, her whereabouts remaining a mystery save for cryptic clues, such as the public release of a photo showing Maxwell at the California hamburger chain In-N-Out Burger. She was arrested in July 2020 at a 156-acre estate in New Hampshire that had been purchased in December 2019 through a shell company. Maxwell and a man had toured the property using pseudonyms and Maxwell’s name did not appear on any of the documents.
Maxwell was charged with four counts of sexual trafficking of a minor for crimes alleged to have occurred between 1994 and 1997. She was also charged with two counts of perjury related to statements she made in the deposition in the civil suit with Giuffre. Her lawyers have argued that unsealing the deposition would prevent her from securing a fair trial.
When Preska ordered the release of Maxwell’s transcript in July as part of a second unsealing of documents from the suit, she left open how she would handle some of the other people who provided testimony in the civil case, the so-called John Does.
Two have asked Preska to redact portions of the transcript to keep their identities private.
Complicating those requests to remain private is a filing to Preska by Dershowitz. Amid their competing defamation suits involving Dershowitz and Giuffre, Dershowitz is trying to force testimony from Leslie Wexner, the former owner of the Victoria’s Secret retail chain, who had Epstein manage his personal wealth. Deroshowitz alleges Wexner settled an unfounded abuse claim with Giuffre to make the allegation go away, something denied by Wexner’s counsel.
And in her criminal case, Maxwell has asked the judge to allow her to break a secrecy requirement in order to present what she says is new information that would help her convince Preska that releasing the transcript would jeopardize her ability to get a fair trial. U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan in that case has not been sympathetic to date.
The wrangling over the transcript potentially weighs on yet another legal matter, Maxwell’s claim against the Epstein estate in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where Epstein’s maintained his main residence the last decade of his life after release from a Florida jail following a roughly one-year stay.
Maxwell has asked a court there to have the Epstein estate pay her legal bills, claiming Epstein verbally promised to cover her legal bills and that he was doing so up until the time of his death. The estate counters Maxwell has no claim.
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