MANHATTAN (CN) — With a new set of files related to Jeffrey Epstein’s former girlfriend and accused accomplice Ghislaine Maxwell slated for release on Thursday, federal prosecutors warned a judge that letting the British socialite name her accusers could risk witness intimidation.
“Permitting defense counsel to publicly identify witnesses who have not identified themselves on the record in this case risks subjecting witnesses to harassment and intimidation, with no conceivable benefit to the defense other than perhaps discouraging witnesses from cooperating with the government,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Alex Rossmiller wrote in a footnote to a 7-page letter on Tuesday.
The prosecutor also argued that allowing Maxwell to name her accusers would violate the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, a law fashioned by Congress to protect the “dignity and privacy” of society’s most vulnerable.
Maxwell faces six charges accusing her of grooming and abusing victims for Epstein’s sex-trafficking conspiracy and then lying in court to cover up the truth. She pleaded not guilty to the charges earlier this month, at a hearing where a federal judge found the evidence against her strong enough to reject her request for bail.
“The risks are simply too great,” U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan ruled on July 14, finding the extraordinarily wealthy publishing heiress could flee if released from jail.
Since that time, Maxwell’s criminal and civil cases largely have focused on how much transparency could be allowed into the proceedings while protecting her right to a fair trial and the dignity of the women stepping forward as witnesses.
U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska, who is presiding over an open-records battle, issued an order Tuesday morning for another batch of documents to be made public on Thursday.
In the criminal case, Maxwell and prosecutors largely agreed on what records to designate as confidential, except for two categories of information. Attorneys for Maxwell want permission to name their client’s accusers who have stepped forward in any public forum, whether in court or to the press.
Prosecutors questioned the motives of Maxwell’s counsel to make such a request.
“The government has repeatedly asked defense counsel to explain how or why it would need to publicly name victims of sexual abuse to prepare for trial, and the defense repeatedly has declined to do so, presumably because the argument borders on the absurd,” the letter states.
In their proposed protective order, prosecutors would allow Maxwell to publicly identify only those who have chosen to speak on the record on her criminal case, and they argue that Maxwell’s request to name any Epstein accuser who has spoken out in any public forum at any time would be “extraordinarily broad, unnecessary, and inappropriate.”
“In essence, the defendant’s proposal seeks authorization to drag into the public glare any victim who has ever made any type of public statement of victimization — no matter how long ago or how brief — without that victim’s knowing consent and without any substantive justification,’ prosecutors say, noting such a position could drag victims into the public spotlight for confiding about their abuse to a small newspaper or podcast, a handful of friends on MySpace or small networks decades ago.
“At bottom, the defendant and her counsel seek an unlimited ability to name victims and witnesses publicly, for no discernible reason, and without justification or legal basis,” prosecutors add.
“The victims of Ghislaine Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein have suffered enough, and the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, applicable law, and common decency compel far more protection of their privacy interests here than the defense proposal would afford,” the blistering passage concludes.
While seeking permission to name certain witness, Maxwell pushed for language in the protective order binding their attorneys.
Prosecutor claim such a clause would be unnecessary and unprecedented.
“The defendant cites not a single example in any district court in the country where such a restriction has been imposed in a protective order,” they wrote.
Maxwell’s attorney Christian Everdell of the firm Cohen & Gresser argued earlier this week that such an order would be necessary to put his client on “equal footing” with the government and witnesses.
“As the court is aware, there is active ongoing civil litigation between Ms. Maxwell and many of the government’s potential witnesses,” Everdell wrote. “Moreover, numerous potential witnesses and their counsel have already made public statements about this case to the media since Ms. Maxwell’s arrest. There is a substantial concern that these individuals will seek to use discovery materials to support their civil cases and future public statements.”
Prosecutors counter that this asks the criminal judge to make decisions about the bounds of unrelated civil litigation.
“Indeed, the government respectfully submits that neither it nor this court is well-positioned to, or should, become the arbiter of what is appropriate or permissible in civil cases,” they wrote.
The terms of the protective order agreed upon by both parties show that discovery in a case involving what has been described as a sex-trafficking pyramid scheme is likely to be gruesome.
“Highly confidential information contains nude, partially-nude, or otherwise sexualized images, videos, or other depictions of individuals,” one of the agreed-upon clauses of the order states.
After Epstein’s arrest one year ago, prosecutors reported finding “at least hundreds—and perhaps thousands—of sexually suggestive photographs of fully- or partially-nude females,” some of whom “appear to be” underage girls.
Maxwell is expected to appeal to the Second Circuit to block the release of sealed files from a defamation suit filed against her five years ago by Virginia Giuffre, who accused the socialite of turning her into Epstein’s “sex slave.”
If the Second Circuit declines to intervene, those files will become public on Thursday.