The appeals panel appeared likely to order an independent psychiatric review, at Maxwell’s expense, to assess whether she is at risk of suicide.
MANHATTAN (CN) — Citing invasive nightly suicide risk checkups at Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center, Ghislaine Maxwell’s lawyers urged a panel of appeals judges on Monday to release her on bail ahead of her upcoming sex trafficking trial.
The 59-year-old Briton faces eight criminal counts in the Southern District of New York, including allegations that she groomed teenage victims as young as 14 years old for abuse by her close friend, financier Jeffrey Epstein. Her attorneys say she is being mishandled on account of Epstein’s 2019 jailhouse suicide.
“For example, she’s kept up at night every 15 minutes with lights shined in her eyes so that they can check her breathing,” Miami-based criminal defense attorney David Oscar Markus said during a remote teleconference on Monday. “She’s not suicidal. There’s no evidence that she’s suicidal. Why is the Bureau of Prisons doing this? They’re doing this because Jeffrey Epstein died on their watch.”
The presiding judge in Maxwell’s criminal case, U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan, has repeatedly denied Maxwell’s multiple requests for release on bail, finding that she still poses a flight risk even though she offered to renounce her French and British citizenship and proposed to have her money placed into an account that would be monitored by a retired judge.
Maxwell, who made her first in-person courthouse appearance since her July 2020 arrest last Friday, has been held in solitary confinement separate from the general jail population at the federal administrative detention facility in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.
According to bail filings, Maxwell has been subjected to “nightmarish” pretrial conditions, “fitting for Hannibal Lecter but not a 59-year old woman who poses no threat to anyone.”
Maxwell’s attorneys argue that jail staff have not only deprived her of adequate sleep, but also served her inedible meals and cloudy, undrinkable water.
The disgraced socialite’s trial was set to begin on July 12, but her attorneys seek to postpone the proceedings because of the newly added counts. At last Friday’s hearing, Maxwell pleaded not guilty to two new criminal counts of sex-trafficking conspiracy and sex trafficking a minor.
During a 25-minute hearing on Monday, Maxwell’s lawyer asked the Second Circuit to grant her temporary release on bail to be able to fairly prepare for the trial.
The Second Circuit panel questioned the government on their understanding of Maxwell’s alleged mistreatment at the MDC facility.
“Is she a suicide risk or not?” asked U.S. Circuit Judge Richard Sullivan, a Donald Trump appointee. “Has the BOP concluded she’s a suicide risk, or is it some other reason that they’re shining lights all night long?”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Pomerantz said the government has not been told that Maxwell is a suicide risk, and described the conditions of Maxwell’s confinement as “routine” Bureau of Prisons procedure.
“My understanding is that the light is not being shined directly into her eyes,” Pomerantz said. “The light is being shined into the ceiling so that the MDC guards are able to check on her security, to check on safety, and that she uses some makeshift mask to cover her eyes.”
U.S. Circuit Judge Pierre Leval probed the government on this assertion.
“Routine to shine lights into the eyes of every prisoner every 15 minutes during the night?” the Clinton-appointed judge asked incredulously. “Are you really telling us that?”
On rebuttal, Maxwell’s attorney rejected the government’s characterization of Maxwell’s imprisonment.
“There is absolutely nothing routine about it,” Markus said. “She’s been treated differently than any inmate ever in that institution.”
“The idea that she has an eye mask that wraps around her head to block out the light is wrong,” he said. “She tries to use either a sock or a towel to block out the light on her own. It’s not wrapped around her head.”
Markus noted that the government dodged inquiries concerning whether Maxwell is suicidal.
“BOP has never come out and said Ghislaine Maxwell is suicidal because she’s not. They do this for the reason that Judge Level said, which is they don’t want an embarrassment like they had with Jeffrey Epstein,” Markus said. “But that’s not a reason to treat someone in inhumane conditions so that they can’t prepare for trial.”
The appeals reserved a decision on Maxwell’s appeal, but appeared likely to order an independent psychiatric review at her expense to assess whether or not she is suicidal.
“If she’s not, then things like shining a flashlight in her eyes every 15 minutes during that night perhaps would not be done, at the court’s direction,” Leval said.
Circuit Judges Leval and Sullivan were joined on the panel by U.S. Circuit Judge Raymond Lohier, an Obama nominee.