Tuesday is the first day of in-court interviews for prospective jurors in the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell, the British socialite and former girlfriend and property manager of Jeffrey Epstein, charged with recruiting teenage girls for Epstein to sexually abuse. According to the prosecution, Maxwell helped Epstein “recruit, groom, and ultimately abuse” victims that she knew were under 18, including one girl as young as 14.
In the juror interview process, or voir dire, U.S. District Judge Alison J. Nathan will begin to question 231 potential jurors. This group was culled from a pool of more than 600 people who filled out a questionnaire earlier this month, answering questions like whether they’d ever been victims of sexual assault, and whether they had heard about Epstein and Maxwell. During interviews, Nathan will ask further questions about the potential jurors’ media consumption and opinions of Epstein and Maxwell, as well as whether they have opinions about “people who are wealthy or have luxurious lifestyles” that could affect their impartiality, according to court documents. The court will select 12 jurors and six alternates for the trial, opening arguments for which begin Nov. 29.
In an indictment, prosecutors said Maxwell and Epstein would first befriend victims, taking them shopping or to the movies and asking them about school and their families. Then Maxwell would talk about sexual topics and undress in front of victims, eventually being present during sex acts involving Epstein and the minor. Epstein died in August 2019 while awaiting trial in federal prison. His death was ruled a suicide. Maxwell has denied all charges, and her lawyers have suggested the government changed Maxwell only because Epstein died. “One does not need to engage in complex analysis to understand what has happened here: the government has sought to substitute our client for Jeffrey Epstein,” her counsel wrote in a February 2021 filing.
In the lead-up to proceedings in the Southern District of New York, Nathan has denied several requests by Maxwell’s defense: On Nov. 1, she ruled to allow the prosecution to refer to accusers as “victims” and “minor victims,” and to allow them to use pseudonyms or to be referred to by their first names only, rejecting a request by Maxwell’s lawyer to ban the terms and to refer to the accusers by their full names.
The decision was announced at a proceeding where Maxwell appeared in court, in shackles, marking only her second appearance in a courtroom since she was arrested in July 2020 on sex trafficking and perjury charges, due to restrictions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The initial charges pertained to sex trafficking in the 1990s. In March 2021, prosecutors filed additional sex trafficking charges that expanded the window of alleged crimes to between 1994 and 2004. She pleaded not guilty to the newer charges, as well. If convicted, she faces up to 80 years in prison.
Judge Nathan has also rejected requests from the defense to block the public and the media from attending the selection proceedings — instead arranging for viewing from an overflow room and a pressroom — as well as refusing to block the public from seeing the blank questionnaire that will be given to about 600 prospective jurors. “These procedures are carefully balanced and tailored to ensure the safety of the parties and prospective jurors in light of the continuing pandemic; to ensure juror candor, impartiality, and privacy; and to ensure the First Amendment right to public access of criminal proceedings,” Nathan wrote in an order on Oct. 22.
The judge also announced she would give attorneys a list of prospective jurors’ names on Nov. 16, the first day of face-to-face questioning, rejecting Maxwell’s lawyers’ request that she release the names to them sooner so that they could look into potential jurors’ backgrounds for potential issues. On Nov. 3, Maxwell’s defense asked the judge to reconsider, arguing that waiting until the 16th will make it impossible to conduct “any meaningful research.”
Opening arguments are set to begin Nov. 29. Attorneys estimate the trial will last six weeks.
This story was originally published on Nov. 4, and updated on Nov. 16.