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Ghislaine Maxwell loses last-ditch plea to keep potentially damning records sealed

Ghislaine Maxwell attends the ETM Children's Benefit Gala in New York on May 6, 2014. Maxwell has been arrested in New Hampshire. (Rob Kim/Getty Images/TNS)

A federal judge late Wednesday rejected an attempt by lawyers for Ghislaine Maxwell, the British socialite accused of being a sex trafficker and alleged madam for Jeffrey Epstein, to block the unsealing and release of potentially embarrassing documents from a settled defamation suit.

Hours before the start of their scheduled unsealing Thursday morning, Maxwell’s lawyers filed a motion to reconsider before U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska, challenging her July 23 decision to order the unsealing and release of documents in a 2015 civil lawsuit that included a deposition given by Maxwell in the case brought by Epstein accuser Virginia Giuffre.

Less than three hours later, Preska denied it, citing “eleventh-hour request for reconsideration.” She allowed Maxwell’s attorneys two days to seek a stay from an appeals court on two key depositions but otherwise ordered the unsealing of other documents to begin Thursday, tied to long-standing litigation by the Miami Herald and social media personality Michael Cernovich.

Maxwell’s lawyers formally appealed the unsealing of the deposition materials and Preska’s denial of her motion for reconsideration to the Appeals Court for the 2nd Circuit.

“We recognize that a reconsideration motion is an extraordinary request, but we suggest it is appropriate under the circumstances,” wrote Ty Gee, a Maxwell attorney, in what proved an unsuccessful effort. “There are new facts since Ms. Maxwell lodged her objections to the unsealing of the transcript of her deposition, and there is a need to correct clear error or prevent manifest injustice relating to the unsealing of the transcript.”

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At issue is a transcript of Maxwell’s deposition, which Gee alleged ended up in the hands of government lawyers who used it to bring the charges against Maxwell. Gee accused Giuffre’s lawyers of sharing the deposition with the government, which they said would be in violation of an agreed-on protective order, and doing so “merits the commencement of contempt proceedings.”

The motion also suggested that Maxwell’s team could try to get criminal perjury charges thrown out against her in a separate criminal case. Maxwell was arrested July 2 at a secluded New Hampshire mansion and charged with four counts of sex trafficking of a minor and two counts of perjury related to statements she made in the civil suit brought by Giuffre.

In his nine-page filing, Gee presented no proof that any lawyer improperly shared the deposition with government prosecutors or that it had been used improperly in formulating charges against Maxwell.

Giuffre’s attorneys have acknowledged that a deposition from the Maxwell lawsuit ended up in the hands of new lawyers representing Giuffre in her lawsuit and countersuit involving Harvard professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz. Preska had earlier ordered that the records in possession of the new lawyers be destroyed.

But if either set of lawyers turned over the depositions in response to a federal grand jury subpoena, it wouldn’t necessarily constitute a violation of the protective order, said David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor.

“They stopped them from voluntarily doing it, they didn’t stop them from involuntarily doing it,” he said.

The fact that Maxwell’s lawyers are raising the issue could suggest that they will try to get Maxwell’s perjury charges thrown out.

Attorneys representing the Herald in its effort to unseal documents as part of its “Perversion of Justice” series urged Preska to stand firm.

“We oppose Maxwell’s baseless request for reconsideration. Judge Preska’s decision to unseal the documents was well-reasoned, and this request by Maxwell is just another delay tactic to avoid release of documents,” said Christine Walz, an attorney in Washington, D.C., for Holland & Knight LLP.

Maxwell’s lawyers also sought blockage from release of documents involving J. Doe 1, one of the numerous people who gave statements and depositions in the civil suit that was settled.

Adding another new wrinkle, Giuffre’s lawyers argued to Preska that Maxwell’s team had requested that “broad swaths of material should be redacted” and proposed submitting its own redacted versions for release, rather than a mutually agreed upon version of the documents.

The prosecution of Maxwell in the Southern District of New York and the defamation-case documents have become tabloid fodder, closely watched across the globe because the alleged madam and Epstein were friends to Hollywood A-listers, British royalty and American politicians, including former President Bill Clinton and President Donald J. Trump.

The documents ordered unsealed by Preska pertain to the process of discovery, where lawyers from each side can ask detailed questions of witnesses from the other side ahead of a trial.

Preska held last week that the presumption of public access to the documents “far outweighed” any rights to avoid embarrassment or annoyance claimed by Maxwell.

Meanwhile, negotiations over a protective order between Maxwell’s attorneys and federal prosecutors in her criminal case broke down earlier this week.

Maxwell’s lawyers have asked for an order placing restrictions on what the federal government and witnesses can do with the government’s discovery materials, which would largely be drawn from the Federal Bureau of Investigation documents from its investigation into Epstein for sex crimes culminating in his extraordinarily lenient 2008 plea deal.

They also want to allow Maxwell’s team to publicly name alleged victims of Epstein and Maxwell who have publicly come forward, regardless of whether they are purported victims in the criminal case against her. Normally alleged victims of sexual battery are not publicly identified in court cases.

Federal prosecutors have strongly objected to Maxwell’s requests.

“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,” prosecutors wrote.

Weinstein, the former federal prosecutor, said in an interview that the request by Maxwell’s team suggests that the lawyers could be trying to sway public opinion by releasing the names of alleged victims.

“I think that’s contrary to the way that lawyers practice in any courtroom,” he said. “You’re supposed to play your case to the jury.”

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© 2020 Miami Herald

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.