MANHATTAN (CN) — A monthlong effort to impanel a jury for the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell concluded Monday morning as the 59-year-old former girlfriend of Jeffrey Epstein finally heads to trial on six felony counts tied to a decade in the late sex offender's long enterprise of trafficking minor girls for sex.
Opening arguments in Maxwell's trial begin this afternoon, but whether the process so far worked to identify a jury of peers for the erstwhile British socialite is a thornier question.
“It strikes me that if you’re Ghislaine Maxwell’s defense attorney, the task of picking a jury is almost an impossible one for you,” Jerald Podair, a lawyer and history professor at Lawrence University, speaking over the phone for an interview.
“If you’re her defense attorney, there isn’t really any ideal juror for you in terms of background, and there are all these landmines in terms of who to pick,” said Podair, a New York City native who now resides in Appleton, Wisconsin. “You don’t want someone who’s poor, or even lower middle class or poor, because of Maxwell’s obvious wealthy status. You don’t want a person of color because she’s a rich privileged white woman accused of doing something truly heinous. ... You don’t want parents of small children, especially daughters — in fact you may not want any parents of children at all because obviously that’s the worst thing that could happen to a parent of a child."
Down from the more than 600 New Yorkers who filled out juror questionnaires, a selection of 231 prospective jurors underwent a process of in-person, direct questioning earlier this month that narrowed the field to 58. They got the week off for Thanksgiving and returned Monday morning to the Manhattan federal courthouse, where by 10 a.m. prosecutors and lawyers for the defense had whittled the pool down to its final formation of 12 jurors and six alternates. Split evenly between men and women, the jury is predominantly Black and Latino.
Maxwell has pleaded not guilty and vehemently denies wrongdoing. Detained at a federal jail in Brooklyn since her July 2020 arrest, the erstwhile British socialite has called the claims against her “absolute rubbish.”
“The defense is in a really, really difficult place,” Podair continued. “Here, there’s no profile. Someone who’s not rich —someone who’s rich might be good, someone who is of higher income, someone who is not a person of color, someone who is not poor. Someone who is not the mother or the father of a daughter under the age of 20 — those are the people that you don’t want — but also not someone who’s young, who might be able to relate to someone who is 17 or 18 and in that situation.“
Podair said Maxwell’s defense would not necessarily want younger jurors because they may be especially more “culturally attuned to issues of sexual harassment and abuse,” but older jurors may not be particularly favorable for Maxwell’s defense either.
“They may have a traditional outlook, maybe even a more Victorian outlook, so they would view this crime as especially heinous. … And that pretty much rules out everybody.”
Podair noted that one juror from the voir dire questioning two weeks ago stood out as more ideal for the defense: Juror 14, a 72-year-old longtime Manhattanite and retired caterer who assured the judge that decades working for the city’s top-shelf cultural institutions would not make him partial toward or against the luxury class.
“I was a director of training and service for a large catering company back in the '80s and '90s. So of course I dealt with all those rich people — United Nations, Met Opera, Met Museum, Kennedy Center. Then I became a personal assistant, because once I learned to do parties and all that I did that,” the prospective juror had said.