Ghislaine Maxwell trial: Who are the key courtroom figures?

Maxwell’s trial is one of the most highly anticipated of the year

Bevan Hurley
Tuesday 28 December 2021 16:17
<p>A sketch of Ghislaine Maxwell during a court appearance on 10 November </p>

A sketch of Ghislaine Maxwell during a court appearance on 10 November

Ghislaine Maxwell’s trial for underage sex trafficking is now in jury deliberations at Manhattan’s federal court.

The prosecution’s case centred around the testimony of four accusers who testified how Ms Maxwell allegedly recruited and groomed girls on behalf of her one-time boyfriend Jeffrey Epstein.

The defence case purported that those accusers were lying or misremembering details, and insisted Ms Maxwell is being targeted for crimes committed by Epstein. The convicted sex offender’s spectre hung heavy over the case more than two years after he killed himself while awaiting his own trial in August 2019.

Ms Maxwell faces six charges: one each of enticement of a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, transportation of a minor with intent to engage in illegal sex acts, sex trafficking of a minor, and three counts of conspiracy related to the other counts.

She has vehemently denied the charges.

The trial revolved around testimony from four women who say they and others were victimised as teens from 1994 to 2004 at Epstein’s estate in Palm Beach, Florida, his palatial townhouse on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, and at other residences in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and London, and the Virgin Islands.

Ms Maxwell faces up to 80 years in prison if found guilty.

Who are the key people involved in the trial?

The $7m defence team

Ms Maxwell, 59, assembled a formidable and costly team of defence lawyers in her bid to avoid spending the rest of her life behind bars.

Most visible in the opening rounds of pre-trial arguments was so-called “super lawyer” Bobbi Sternheim.

Ms Sternheim is a former prosecutor who tried international organised crime syndicates, terrorism and capital murder cases.

Bobbi Sternheim

More recently, she defended terrorist Minh Quang Pham, who was convicted of plotting to blow up Heathrow. Her most high-profile client prior to Ms Maxwell was Osama bin Laden’s spokesman Khaled al-Fawwaz, who she argued was denied a fair trial when he was found guilty of plotting the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Ms Sternheim has also tried civil cases including a gender discrimination case against Saudi Arabia’s permanent mission to the United Nations. She holds a “top Secret/SCI Clearance.”

Ms Maxwell has also hired David Markus, a hardball Harvard-educated lawyer whose personal biography highlights his “creative and unrelenting” approach.

Among his best-known cases was the acquittal of a South Florida doctor Dr Ali Shaygan who was found not guilty on all 141 counts for illegally selling prescription drugs.

Two top litigators from white-shoe law firm Cohen & Gresser are also on Ms Maxwell’s crack defence team.

Christian Everdell is a former Southern District of New York prosecutor who helped convict Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, and will be facing off against former colleagues from the office.

Christian Everdell is a former prosecutor who helped bring down Chapo Guzman

Mr Everdell took cases against members of terrorist networks such as Al Qaeda, Colombian guerrillas FARC, and notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

The law firm’s co-founder Mark S Cohen, also a former prosecutor, has become one of the top white collar defenders in New York.

They are joined by two Colorado-based attorneys Jeffrey Pagliuca and Laura Menninger.

Ms Menninger also represented Ms Maxwell in a 2015 defamation hearing brought by Epstein accuser Virginia Giuffre, and was a one-time clerk for Southern District of New York judge Lewis A Kaplan.

Mr Pagliuca’s notable cases include Craig Lewis, an editor for the Globe tabloid, who was accused of bribery and extortion for allegedly trying to buy a copy of the ransom note for child beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey.

In legal filings, Ms Maxwell revealed she had set aside $7m for her legal war chest.

The prosecutors

Assistant US Attorney Maurene Comey is one of the lead prosecutors in the case against Ms Maxwell, and had been due to try Epstein prior to his death in 2019.

The daughter of former FBI director James Comey is the head of the SDNY’s Violent and Organised Crime Unit, and has been with the office since 2014.

She has tried major cases including the 2019 trial of 11 men for trafficking minors, gang members and drug traffickers.

Joining Ms Comey are Lara E Pomerantz, a member of the SDNY’s Public Corruption Unit, who prosecuted a DEA agent who was a member of cocaine-smuggling gang responsible for at least seven murders.

Rounding out the defence team is Andrew Rohrback, a graduate of Harvard Law School who has been with the SDNY since 2019.

The SDNY is one of the most prestigious prosecutor’s offices in the US, and has previously been led by Rudy Giuliani, James Comey and Preet Bharara.

Notable prosecutions handled by the office include the 1993 World Trade Center bombers, Richard Nixon’s Attorney General during Watergate, John Mitchell, and injury and loss of life claims from the sinking of the Titanic.

The judge

Judge Alison Nathan, a former special assistant to Barack Obama, was appointed a judge in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York in 2011.

The 49-year-old has overseen Ms Maxwell’s pre-trial hearings, and turned down four applications for bail on the grounds that the wealthy socialite is a flight risk.

Judge Alison Nathan

Judge Nathan cited Ms Maxwell’s lack of honesty about her wealth, and that as a passport holder of three countries, the US, Britain and France, she could use her extraordinary wealth and connections to flee the court’s jurisdiction.

Ms Maxwell’s brother Ian has said she is being kept in inhumane conditions in Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center.

Judge Nathan was last month nominated for a prestigious federal appeals court process, but said she would stay on to preside over Ms Maxwell’s trial.

She is also an adjunct professor of clinical law at New York University.

The jury

An initial pool of 600 prospective jurors were asked to fill out questionnaires detailing what they knew about Ms Maxwell and Epstein. From those Judge Nathan questioned 231 potential members over whether they had been victims of abuse and what opinions they held about people of wealth who have “luxurious lifestyles”.

The jury pool was whittled down to a jury of 12 member and six alternates.

The charges

Count one alleges Ms Maxwell “assisted, facilitated and contributed to Jeffrey Epstein’s abuse of minor girls by, among other things, helping Epstein to recruit, groom and ultimately abuse victims known to Maxwell and Epstein to be under the age of 18.”

It detailed how Ms Maxwell would befriend the girls by asking them about their lives, their schools, and their families.

She and Epstein would build friendships by taking the teenage girls shopping or to the movies.

“Having developed a rapport with a victim, Maxwell would try to normalise sexual abuse for a minor victim by, among other things, discussing sexual topics, undressing in front of the victim, being present when a minor victim was undressed, and/or being present for sex acts involving the minor victim and Epstein.”

Ms Maxwell is also facing two perjury charges which were not heard during this trial.

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