WASHINGTON — When a 418-page transcript of a deposition given by Ghislaine Maxwell is made public, perhaps by week’s end, it will mark a major milestone in a legal fight by the Miami Herald to reveal Jeffrey Epstein’s protected world by shining light in uncomfortable places.
Maxwell — the alleged madam to the late disgraced financier — sits in a New York jail awaiting a July trial date, denied bail on federal sex trafficking charges and considered a flight risk. She sought to block release of the lengthy April 2016 deposition, arguing it would hurt her defense in separate criminal proceedings.
Late Tuesday, her lawyers sought yet again to delay the deposition release, saying they were “still considering whether to seek any further emergency appellate remedies” or whether they would share any additional information to try to sway the judge.
After a flurry of court filings, the parties were told late Tuesday that the deposition would be released by 9 a.m. EDT Thursday morning in New York. The parties are expected to spend Wednesday fighting over what does or doesn’t get blacked out when released.
U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska ruled in favor of the Herald in July, determining that the public had a right to see many documents in Maxwell’s settled civil suit with Epstein accuser Virginia Roberts Giuffre. Maxwell appealed, and on Monday the Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit agreed with Preska.
Speaking before the appeals court, the Herald’s attorney, Christine Walz, a partner at Holland & Knight, argued that the documents shouldn’t have been kept from the public in the first place.
“The judicial documents at issue involve matters of the utmost public importance — accusations of sex trafficking of young girls for years at the hands of the wealthy and powerful, that have been kept secret for far too long,” she said.
Given the nature of the allegations that triggered the civil lawsuit, the deposition is likely to provide much greater detail about the scope of the alleged sex trafficking by Epstein and Maxwell, both in how Maxwell answered or did not.
The transcript’s release has generated buzz because of the wealthy and powerful men in Maxwell and Epstein’s orbit. President Donald J. Trump recently made headlines because rather than disavow Maxwell he remembered her fondly from his Palm Beach days and wished her well. Trump and others were in Epstein’s now-infamous black book of acquaintances.
Epstein and Maxwell were also close to former President Bill Clinton, who appeared more than two dozen times in flight manifests for Epstein’s jet, dubbed the Lolita Express.
Former Colombian President Andres Pastrana flew on the Lolita Express. Ex-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak visited Epstein’s New York mansion. Giuffre alleges she was pimped by Maxwell and Epstein to England’s Prince Andrew, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and celebrity lawyer Alan Dershowitz. All three men deny that.
A photo showing Giuffre, Maxwell and the prince together — with Andrew’s arm around Giuffre’s bare midriff — has been widely published.
The Maxwell deposition is unlikely to deal directly with those figures, although they could appear in other documents to be released, such as depositions from others who gave sworn testimony and are asking that their names not be made public.
Epstein might still be alive and thriving if not for the Herald’s “Perversion of Justice” series in November 2018 that spotlighted the deal that allowed him to avoid federal prosecution. The U.S. attorney who inked the arrangement that allowed Epstein to only face lesser state charges was Alexander Acosta. He went on to be Trump’s labor secretary until resigning in July 2019, shortly after Epstein was arrested anew but on federal charges.
To say that there is a lot of expectation surrounding Maxwell’s deposition would be an understatement.
“The Epstein sex trafficking ring is a story of great public interest. Unfortunately, most of the evidence about it — its scope and scale, the hundreds of girls it exploited and abused, the support and protection it had from the rich and the powerful that permitted it to operate for decades, and the failure for years of the courts, prosecutors, and the media to address it — has been hidden behind the curtain of protective orders in two civil cases,” said David Boies, who is representing Epstein accuser Giuffre.
Protective orders are used in lawsuits to protect confidential information, but Boies and other lawyers accuse Maxwell of using such orders after the civil suit with Giuffre was settled in 2017 to hide evidence of crimes.
Boies has worked closely on the case with Sigrid McCawley, a Florida-based partner at his firm.
“Starting in the beginning of 2015, Sigrid and I have probably spent more time on this than anything else we’ve been doing,” Boies said.
Lawyers representing the Herald have asked courts to err on the side of public access, given the protections afforded to Epstein and his wealthy, powerful friends.
“For two years, we pursued this lawsuit because we believed that the secrecy surrounding Jeffrey Epstein and his enablers — dating back to his original deal with U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta — made a mockery of justice. We hope in the future that judges and prosecutors will worry less about protecting wealthy abusers and focus more on those hurt by their egregious behavior,” said Aminda Marques Gonzalez, executive editor of the Herald.
The Herald’s attempts to unseal documents from the civil suit took on greater significance after Maxwell was arrested July 2 at a 156-acre estate in New Hampshire and charged with four counts of sexual trafficking of a minor and two counts of perjury. The latter charges were related to statements she made in the April 2016 deposition.
Maxwell’s team has argued that the deposition was released to federal prosecutors illegally — which federal prosecutors have disputed — and that its public unsealing would jeopardize her chance at a fair trial by potentially tainting future jurors.
Former federal prosecutor David Weinstein doesn’t believe that argument has much merit.
“Quite frankly, there is already a large number of members of the potential jury pool who have pre-judged Maxwell’s guilt — or perhaps her innocence,” he said. “The question for the lawyers during the eventual jury selection process will be can those members of the potential jury pool put aside those notions and decide the case on the facts they see and hear presented in the courtroom.”
Weinstein compared Maxwell’s case to criminal cases against other high-profile people, such as Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, comedian Bill Cosby or Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, who have been able to have fair trials in spite of intense media coverage.
And he said he thinks the stakes involving this latest unsealing are actually lower now than when the Herald first successfully sought to unseal Epstein documents in April 2018.
“The stakes were a lot higher when you first went to unseal things because so much was unknown,” he said. “Before she was indicted, what was known about what she did with Epstein was sealed in the proceedings.”
The fight over unsealing Maxwell’s deposition became further entwined with Maxwell’s criminal case when she sought permission to use “critical new material” turned over to her lawyers in the criminal case to bolster her argument for blocking the unsealing of her deposition in the civil case.
The judge in her criminal case, U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan, rejected Maxwell’s plea to use the new material in efforts to prevent the release of the deposition from the settled civil suit. Maxwell appealed Nathan’s decision last month and the appellate court rejected it Monday.
In a two-page order Tuesday, Preska put the parties on notice that she intends to move quickly to release the documents.
“In order to hasten the unsealing process and to avoid any last-minute disputes, the Court advises the parties that the necessary redactions are intended to be as limited in scope as is workable,” the order said, warning the parties that she had little appetite for arguing over whose names are blacked out.
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