NEW YORK — The recent downfalls of former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Harvey Weinstein and R. Kelly have only heightened the “interest and intrigue” surrounding Ghislaine Maxwell, the British socialite’s lawyers wrote Wednesday, arguing for an unusual amount of secrecy in the lead-up to her trial.
“New York has been the venue for some of the most notorious events, including but hardly limited to the recent investigation and resignation of Governor Andrew Cuomo and trials and convictions of Harvey Weinstein and R. Kelly,” Maxwell attorney Bobbi Sternheim wrote.
“The fact that a woman now stands trial for charges almost exclusively alleged against men heightens the interest and intrigue of this case.”
The unexpected comparison came in a letter asking Manhattan Federal Judge Alison Nathan to keep proposed questions to prospective jurors under seal. The questionnaires typically ask potential jurors if they have opinions about certain individuals who will be discussed at trial. In Maxwell’s trial, a laundry list of bold-faced names could come up during testimony.
The charges against Maxwell touched on “sensational, hot-button social issues ... sexual harassment and abuse of females of all ages, including inappropriate sexual contact with minors,” Sternheim argued.
Further publicity about the jury selection process would only further harm Maxwell’s right to a fair trial, she wrote.
Sternheim name-dropped other men brought down by sex scandals to make her case: former New York Govs. David Paterson and Eliot Spitzer, former state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner. In addition to keeping the questionnaires under wraps, Sternheim asked that jurors be questioned by the judge behind closed doors — a process that typically occurs in open court.
“While the Court has no power to protect Ms. Maxwell from such public contempt, it can exercise its supervisory powers and discretion and implement protocols designed to obtain an open-minded jury sworn to return a verdict based solely on evidence presented at trial,” Sternheim wrote.
Maxwell, 59, is charged with grooming teenage girls for Jeffrey Epstein’s sexual abuse for more than a decade. Epstein, a close friend and former flame of Maxwell’s, hanged himself in 2019 while awaiting trial for underage sex trafficking.
She is all but certain to spend Christmas Day — her 60th birthday — in a Brooklyn federal lockup.
In a separate letter, lawyers for the government and Maxwell wrote that the trial scheduled to start Nov. 29 could go past Christmas. She has pleaded not guilty.
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