Accusers of the upcoming trial of British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, accused of helping Jeffrey Epstein abuse teenage girls, can testify using pseudonyms to protect their privacy, a judge has said.
U.S. District Judge Alison J Nathan’s decision came after Maxwell was brought handcuffed to a Manhattan courtroom for a final preliminary hearing.
Justice Nathan has issued a series of evidentiary rulings to set the course for the highly anticipated trial, which will begin later this month.
At the end of a nearly four-hour process, a prosecutor said no plea discussions had taken place. Defense lawyer Bobbi Sternheim said there was no reason for them because his client “did not commit any crime”.
Maxwell echoed his attorney’s words, saying aloud, “I have committed no crime.”
Saying that she would renew a bail application that has been repeatedly denied, Ms Sternheim complained that her client was being treated so harshly that Maxwell, chained to his ankles and waist with his hands cuffed in front of her, had to get on her hands and knees to get into the van that took her to the courthouse.
Then, she was filed around 5:30 am, more than five hours before the start of the hearing and placed alone in a cold detention cell, said the lawyer.
When Maxwell fell asleep, she was “pushed to be awakened,” Ms Sternheim told the judge.
Ms Sternheim has repeatedly complained that Maxwell is woken up by guards in a federal dungeon in Brooklyn who light up her cell every 15 minutes to monitor her.
Judge Nathan said she allowed pseudonyms to several witnesses who are expected to provide “explicit” and “highly sensitive” testimony at trial.
Measures to conceal the identity of witnesses in open court are necessary “to protect alleged victims from potential harassment by the media and others,” the judge said.
She noted that similar precautions were taken for the accusers following Keith Raniere, a self-help guru convicted in 2019 of sexually exploiting followers at his NXIVM complex in upstate New York. And she said anonymity would encourage other victims to come forward.
Judge Nathan also rejected a defense offer to ban the government from labeling accusers “victims” or “underage victims”, calling it “unnecessary and impractical.”
And she also set limits on defense efforts to present the Maxwell investigation as rushed and politically motivated, saying exploring such charges would only confuse the jury.
The trial should “focus on the evidence or the lack of evidence and the credibility or the lack of credibility of the witnesses,” she said.
Defense attorneys appeared poised to secure a major win when the judge appeared to consider excluding the testimony of one of the four women supposed to testify about sexual abuse on the grounds that she was not a minor by law in jurisdictions where she claimed she was sexually abused by Epstein at the age of 17. The judge asked the lawyers to submit arguments on the matter.
Potential jurors will begin filling out questionnaires later this week and their oral examination will begin in mid-November. Opening statements are scheduled for November 29
Maxwell, 59, has been in jail since her arrest in July 2020, when she pleaded not guilty to recruiting teenage girls to be sexually abused by Epstein and sometimes joined in the abuse.
Epstein died in a Manhattan dungeon in August 2019 while awaiting trial for sex trafficking. The death was ruled a suicide.
Prosecutors filed arguments last week, saying the defense was seeking to create a “side show” with foreign subjects.
The judge broadly agreed, ruling that defense attorneys will not be allowed to question witnesses about why law enforcement pursued the case, how they chose the subpoenas and why they were called. decided to indict Maxwell and not the others.