Ghislaine Maxwell trial: Who are the key courtroom figures?

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

After nearly 17 months in jail, Ghislaine Maxwell will finally have her day in court as her trial for underage sex trafficking gets underway in Manhattan’s federal court on Monday.

After months of pre-trial hearings, prosecutors will deliver opening arguments on how Ms Maxwell allegedly recruited and groomed girls on behalf of her one-time boyfriend Jeffrey Epstein.

The spectre of Epstein, who killed himself in August 2019 while awaiting trial, is likely to hang heavily over the trial.

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.

Follow the latest updates in the Ghislaine Maxwell trial

The trial will revolve 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.

Four accusers, who prosecutors will be allowed to call victims in court, are listed in the indictment, and several more are likely to testify during the trial, which is expected to last six weeks.

Ms Maxwell, who faces up to 80 years in prison if found guilty, is likely to take the stand in her own defence, sources close to her told the Daily Mail.

Who are the key people involved in the trial?

The $7m defence team

Ms Maxwell, 59, has assembled a formidable and costly team of defence lawyers as she tries to avoid.

Most visible in the opening rounds of pre-trial arguments has been 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 (FBDM Law)
Bobbi Sternheim (FBDM Law)

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 (Cohen & Gresser)
Christian Everdell is a former prosecutor who helped bring down Chapo Guzman (Cohen & Gresser)

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 Centre 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 (NYU)
Judge Alison Nathan (NYU)

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 Centre.

Judge Nathan was this month nominated for a prestigious federal appeals court process, but has said she will 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 are not being heard during this trial.

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