NYC Judge Reportedly Denies Maxwell's Request for Closed Jury Selection Ahead of Trial Start
© AP Photo / Elizabeth WilliamsIn this courtroom sketch, Ghislaine Maxwell, far right, appears in Manhattan Federal court seated next to her attorney Bobbi C. Sternheim, second from left, along with her sister Isabel Maxwell, far left, during her arraignment on a superceding indictment, Friday, April 23, 2021, in New York.
© AP Photo / Elizabeth Williams
This would be a setback for the former British socialite, who is now awaiting trial for helping recruit and groom underage girls for her ex-lover and convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. Jury selection is set to commence on November 15, followed by opening statements on November 29. Maxwell has pled not guilty to all of the charges.
Ghislaine Maxwell's plea for jury selection to be held in private ahead of her planned sex trafficking trial next month was refused by federal judge Alison Nathan, The Daily Mail reported on Thursday.
The judge reportedly stated that she would not conduct jury selection in secret because the facts of the case "point strongly against deviation from standard practice." Nathan also turned down a request from Maxwell's legal team to keep the jury questionnaire confidential, saying she was "not persuaded" it could influence jurors.
As the outlet noted, in federal court in New York, judges examine jurors in groups of around 20 in open court, with prosecutors and defense attorneys asking questions.
Maxwell, on the other hand, reportedly wanted the procedure to be done in secret because of the "tsunami" of negative publicity surrounding the case, and because jurors might be asked deeply personal questions. Her lawyers also asked that the procedure be led by them rather than the court, which would be a change from the usual practice.
© AP Photo / John MinchilloJeffrey Epstein Associate
Jeffrey Epstein Associate
© AP Photo / John Minchillo
However, Judge Nathan stated during the hearing that she would "not permit" attorney-led jury questioning. She reportedly claimed that the "factors point strongly against deviation from that standard practice," and that other judges in the Southern District of New York have handled similar high-profile cases without incident.
According to the report, Judge Nathan is said to have spoken with Judge Ann Donnolly of the Eastern District of New York, a nearby federal judicial district, about "similar issues" involving sensitive jury questioning. Judge Donnolly presided over the highly publicized trial of R. Kelly, who was recently convicted of sexually abusing underage females.
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Judge Nathan reportedly stated that the jury selection procedure would be altered as a result of COVID-19 restrictions. Jurors would be given a questionnaire ahead of time, and then she would examine potential jurors individually in court rather than in groups.
Allowing the jury questionnaire to be made public before the trial, according to Maxwell's lawyer Bobbi Sternheim who is quoted in the report as saying at the hearing, would be like giving potential jurors a "take-home exam" where they could figure out the answers ahead of time.
Sternheim expressed concern that certain jurors may be "motivated to sit on this jury," implying that they are biased against the 59-year-old Maxwell. Judge Nathan stated that she is "failing to see what the prejudice is" and that her questioning of jurors will be "probing."
"I am not persuaded that on the off chance there is a juror who has seen a media report of the questionnaire in advance and fails to disclose it is somehow prejudiced," she is quoted as saying. "If a juror is going to lie and be dishonest we will smoke that out."
Nathan ultimately ordered that the questionnaire be filed to the public docket by the end of the week. The phrasing of one question, which asked if jurors had "protested for any regulations regarding sex trafficking against minors or sexual harassment," was requested to be changed by Sternheim.
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Prosecutors also requested that sketches of Epstein's proceedings in federal court in Manhattan following his arrest in 2019 be removed from the courthouse premises before the jury selection process begins. The motion was supported by the defense team, and the judge promised to "get that down for sure."
Maxwell denies sex trafficking multiple young girls for Epstein, the disgraced late pedophile who allegedly died by hanging in his jail cell while awaiting his own trial in 2019.