Ghislaine Maxwell wants sex abuse case dropped because grand jury was too white
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New York - Lawyers for Ghislaine Maxwell, the wealthy socialite whose long-time relationship with paedophile Jeffrey Epstein led to her arrest on charges she recruited and groomed his victims, are seeking the case's dismissal on grounds the grand jury chosen to indict her was too White - a move legal experts called valid even though Maxwell is not a minority.
In pretrial motions filed late Monday night, Maxwell's legal team said the grand jury empanelled last year in suburban Westchester County was improperly seated and lacked diversity - and that Manhattan, where the case is pending in federal court and where there is a higher concentration of minorities, should have been the venue.
"The fact that Ms. Maxwell herself is neither Black nor Hispanic does not deprive of her of standing to raise this challenge," one of her pretrial motions says.
The US attorney's office in Manhattan declined to comment on Maxwell's motion.
Maxwell, 59, has British and French citizenship and is the daughter of late media mogul Robert Maxwell. She was arrested in July at a sprawling estate in New England and remains detained in Brooklyn, having recently offered to put up more than $20 million in collateral in a failed bid for release on bail.
It was not immediately clear why the grand jury was seated outside of New York City, but since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, court proceedings here have been dramatically altered, with most appearances being done remotely. Only a small number of jury trials have gone forward and none is starting now.
Vincent Southerland, executive director of the Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law at the New York University School of Law, said Maxwell's claim is viable and could result in US District Judge Alison Nathan dismissing the indictment - although prosecutors would probably have a chance to present the case again to a fresh grand jury panel, should the judge rule in Maxwell's favour.
Under the law, juries and grand juries must represent a fair cross-section of the community where the alleged crime occurred. Challenges like the one made by Maxwell's lawyers are fairly routine during jury selection at trial. The grand jury process is secret, but the Sixth Amendment protection still firmly applies.
"The fact that she's a White woman raising this claim about having a grand jury pool that's not representative of the jurisdiction where she's being tried - while it might be jarring on its face, it's kind of well within the bounds of the ways in which these type of claims get raised," Southerland said.
Maxwell should not have to prove there was any intent to compose a grand jury a certain way, Southerland said, adding that, if she is successful, the ruling could open doors for claims to be brought by other, less fortunate defendants.
"If it's unfair for her, then it's unfair for everybody," Southerland said.
Maxwell was Epstein's long-time girlfriend. She is accused of helping him procure underage girls for sexual exploitation over several years in the 1990s. Her arrest came about a year after he was taken into federal custody and subsequently committed suicide in a Manhattan jail cell.
Her criminal case remains closely watched, in part because there have been so many accusers to come forward and because of Epstein's vast connections to the rich and powerful. He and Maxwell were close for a time with former presidents Donald Trump and Bill Clinton, though both men have said they knew nothing of his crimes, and with Britain's Prince Andrew, who has faced related accusations and steadily rebuffed investigators' bid to speak with him. Andrew has denied any wrongdoing.
The Southern District of New York, where Maxwell's case is pending, encompasses parts of New York City and six upstate counties, with jurors and grand jurors often having to commute into the city. In Manhattan, juries are pulled from that region. In White Plains, where the grand jury in Maxwell's case was impanelled, jurors come from six upstate counties, including Westchester - a region with significantly smaller minority populations than those in or closer to the city.
Deborah Tuerkheimer, a research professor at the Pritzker School of Law at Northwestern University, said the type of argument brought by Maxwell is typically difficult to prevail on, but she agreed with Maxwell's lawyers that her race is not a factor. "The fact that the defendant is not a member of the allegedly excluded groups is not an issue," Tuerkheimer said.
Maxwell's legal team also argued that a highly controversial plea deal Epstein entered into with federal prosecutors in Florida years ago extended protections to her because, in exchange for his guilty plea, he and his associates were promised that no additional charges would be brought. He served only about a year in jail with liberal work-release privileges, despite the number of victims that law enforcement had identified at that point.
Her motion related to the plea deal has not yet been made public.
The Manhattan US attorney's office indicted Epstein in 2019 on sex-trafficking charges, taking the position that the Florida plea deal extended years ago by its Justice Department counterparts did not apply. Weeks after his arrest in New York, Epstein killed himself, touching off a Federal Bureau of Prisons scandal and widespread conspiracy theories that foul play was involved.
Numerous women have accused Epstein of sexually abusing them when they were younger, and many have said his death kept them from seeing justice served. One of the accusers, Virginia Giuffre, has been fighting to have documents from her lawsuit against Maxwell unsealed. One of the depositions Maxwell gave, which is the basis for the perjury count in her indictment, is expected to be unsealed in the near future after many months of litigation and intervention by the Miami Herald.
Maxwell's lawyers have repeatedly complained that she is living under unduly restrictive conditions at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, noting that Epstein died under the Bureau of Prisons' supervision.