Politics

Judge denies gag order request by Ghislaine Maxwell in Jeffrey Epstein sex crimes case

Key Points
  • A federal judge rejected a request for a gag order sought by lawyers for British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, who is charged with helping the late investor Jeffrey Epstein procure underage girls to be sexually abused.
  • But Judge Alison Nathan warned prosecutors, defense lawyers and attorneys for Maxwell's accuser and other witnesses that she would "not hesitate to take appropriate action in the face of violations of any relevant rules."
  • Epstein was a former friend of Presidents Donald Trump and Bill Clinton, as well as of Prince Andrew of Britain.
Ghislaine Maxwell attends day 1 of the 4th Annual WIE Symposium at Center 548 on September 20, 2013 in New York City.
Laura Cavanaugh | Getty Images

A federal judge on Thursday rejected a request for a gag order sought by lawyers for British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, who is charged with helping the late investor Jeffrey Epstein procure underage girls to be sexually abused.

But Judge Alison Nathan warned prosecutors, defense lawyers and attorneys for Maxwell's accuser and other witnesses that she would "not hesitate to take appropriate action in the face of violations of any relevant rules" about making public statements that could affect Maxwell's ability to receive a fair trial.

"The Court will ensure strict compliance with those rules and will ensure that the Defendant's right to a fair trial will be safeguarded," Nathan wrote in a filing in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, where last week she ordered the 58-year-old Maxwell held without bail, calling her an extreme flight risk.

Maxwell's lawyers on Wednesday had asked Nathan to issue an order prohibiting prosecutors, FBI agents and lawyers for witnesses from making statements about the case outside of the courtroom or in legal filings.

Maxwell's lawyers said in their request that federal prosecutors and witnesses' attorneys "have made, and continue to make, statements prejudicial to a fair trial" for the defendant, who has pleaded not guilty to sex crime and perjury charges.

Maxwell's lawyers noted a local court rule that bars law enforcement officials and lawyers from releasing nonpublic information or opinion which is likely to interfere with a defendant's right to a fair trial.

"It appears that given any opportunity lawyers associated with the prosecution of this case will offer any opinion that damages Ms. Maxwell's opportunity for a fair trial," the filing said.

But in her ruling Thursday, Nathan said that she "firmly expects that counsel for all involved parties will exercise great care to ensure compliance with this Court's local rules ... and the rules of professional responsibility." 

"In light of this clear expectation, the Court does not believe that further action is needed at this time to protect the Defendant's right to a fair trial by an impartial jury," Nathan wrote.

The judge's denial of the gag order request was "without prejudice," meaning that Mawell's lawyers can re-file their gag order request if other grounds arise for it in the future.

Those lawyers had asked for the gag order on the same day that President Donald Trump, a former friend of Epstein, said at a White House press conference, "I just wish her well," when asked about Maxwell's criminal case. Trump had socialized with Epstein and Maxwell years ago.

VIDEO0:3400:34
Trump on accused Epstein accomplice Ghislaine Maxwell: 'I wish her well'

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, which is prosecuting Maxwell, declined to comment on the gag order request.

A spokesman for the law firm of the attorneys David Boies and Sigrid McCawley, who represent an accuser in Maxwell's case, did not respond to a request for comment.

Boies and McCawley's recent public comments about Maxwell were cited in the filing, and a gag order would have applied to them if Nathan had granted it.

Epstein, 66, died from what has officially been ruled a suicide by hanging last August in a federal jail, where he was being held without bail on child sex trafficking charges related to his alleged abuse of dozens of underage girls. 

That case related to alleged conduct from 2002 through 2005 at Epstein's luxurious residences on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and in Palm Beach, Florida. Before his conviction on state sex crime charges in Florida in 2008, Epstein had been a friend of President Bill Clinton and also with Britain's Prince Andrew.

One of Epstein's accusers has said that she had sex with Andrew at the direction of Maxwell. Andrew denies her claim.

Maxwell, who has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, is charged with helping Epstein in the mid-1990s recruit and groom underage girls, at least one as young as 14 years old, so that he could sexually abuse them at his residences in New York, Palm Beach, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, as well as at Maxwell's home in London.

She also is accused of lying under oath about her conduct and her knowledge of Epstein's conduct in depositions taken for a civil lawsuit involving an Epstein accuser.

Maxwell's lawyers, in their gag order request, cited comments after her July 2 arrest in New Hampshire by acting SDNY U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss and FBI Special Agent William Sweeney at a press conference.

Strauss at the press conference had said that Maxwell lied under oath "because the truth, as alleged, was almost unspeakable."

VIDEO0:5800:58
NBC archive footage shows Trump partying with Jeffrey Epstein in 1992

That alleged truth, Strauss went on to say, was that "Maxwell enticed minor girls, got them to trust her and then delivered them into the trap that she and Epstein had set for them."

"She pretended to be a woman they could trust, all the while she was setting them up to be sexually abused by Epstein and, in some cases, by Maxwell herself," prosecutors said.

Maxwell's attorneys, in their filing, wrote, "Although Ms. Strauss sprinkled her comments with the phrase 'as alleged,' she presented certain of her statements as fact."

Sweeney, during the same press conference, called Maxwell "one of the villains in this investigation," and also "compared her to a snake that 'slithered away to a gorgeous property in New Hampshire,'" Maxwell's lawyers noted.

"Thus, Mr. Sweeney offers the Government's, again flatly wrong, opinions about character and guilt while, at the same time, invoking a semi-biblical reference involving a snake slithering away to a garden in New Hampshire," the filing said.

The accuser's lawyer Boies, the filing noted, in an ABC News interview after Maxwell was ordered detained without bail, had said: "Remember these girls were abused twice, once sexually years ago and then a second time when Epstein and Maxwell and all their enablers began these vicious attacks on their credibility."

"No question about it. Maxwell knows where a lot of the bodies are buried. If I was somebody who had participated in their sex trafficking, um, I would not be sleeping easily tonight," Boies had said.

The filing also noted that Boies' colleague McCawley, in that same interview, said: "Ghislaine was really the central figure, so she worked hand-in-hand with Jeffrey Epstein to be able to facilitate these crimes over the course of more than two decades; and she was the main person who assisted him and allowed him to be able to perpetrate so many crimes against young females."