NEW YORK – Ghislaine Maxwell faced her trial judge in person for the first time Friday as lawyers squabbled over exactly when she should be tried on sex trafficking charges that allege that she procured teenage girls for Jeffrey Epstein to sexually abuse at his posh residences.
Maxwell, a British socialite and one-time girlfriend of the financier, pleaded not guilty to sex trafficking conspiracy and an additional sex trafficking charge that were added in a rewritten indictment released last month by a Manhattan federal court grand jury. The new indictment stretched the timespan of the charges from three years to a decade.
Wearing a prison blue short-sleeved smock, Maxwell sat with her lawyers before U.S. District Judge Alison J. Nathan took the bench in a courtroom where everyone wore masks and sat apart from one another to protect against the coronavirus. Members of the media were in the jury box.
Maxwell answered “Yes, your honor” when she was asked if she had seen the indictment and “I have, your honor” when asked if she had ample opportunity to review it.
Her lawyers maintain they need months of additional preparation because of the new charges, making it impossible to keep a July 12 trial date. Prosecutors have said the new charges should not require substantial additional work because they add a single victim to the three already described in the indictment.
The judge didn't make an immediate decision on a possible new date for the trial, but told lawyers she wants to avoid a long delay.
As Maxwell was led out of court by deputy marshals, she kissed two of her lawyers on the cheek through her mask and waved to two spectators, including her sister.
Epstein and Maxwell accuser Danielle Bensky, a client of high-profile attorney David Boies, sat among several spectators directly behind the black-haired Maxwell. Her view of the defendant was partially obscured by a man whose black jacket was emblazoned with “US Marshal."
“I think it's incredibly vindicating to see her sit there," Benksy said outside court. "I do think that it's hard to do and it's painful, but it's good too.”
The Associated Press does not name victims of sexual assault unless they come forward publicly, as Bensky has. Her accusations are not part of the indictment.
Outside court, Boies said he hoped to have at least one of over a dozen Epstein accusers he represents at every court hearing involving Maxwell prior to her trial. One of his clients is among the four women whose claims are outlined in the indictment.
“I think it's important they have access to what's going on and that the court knows this case is important to them,” he said.
Epstein took his own life at a Manhattan federal jail in August 2019 while awaiting a sex-trafficking trial.
Maxwell, 59, has been in custody at a federal lockup in Brooklyn since her arrest last July at a $1 million New Hampshire estate where her lawyers say she went to live to avoid the spotlight of media attention and to remain safe from threats. Prosecutors, though, say she took steps to hide her whereabouts and movements.
Outside court, Maxwell attorney David Markus called his client “courageous and tough.”
He said it was difficult for Maxwell's sister, Isabel, to be in court as well.
The lawyer said two of Maxwell's brothers wanted to be there, too, but were unable to come from England because of COVID-19 restrictions.
“But they are behind their sister 1,000%,” he said.
Maxwell has failed three times in her bid to be granted bail, despite offering a $28.5 million package and agreeing to live with electronic monitoring and armed guards who would ensure she does not leave a New York City residence. The U.S. citizen also has offered to give up citizenship in the United Kingdom and France. A bail appeal hearing is scheduled next week before the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In court documents, prosecutors say Maxwell recruited at least three teenage girls, including a 14-year-old, between 1994 and 1997 for Epstein to sexually abuse. The superseding indictment says another teenage girl was recruited in the early 2000s, when she was 14. The indictment alleges Maxwell sometimes joined in the abuse.
A lawyer for Maxwell requested the in-person arraignment Friday, citing “media coverage” and a “debacle” that occurred during a remote hearing in a related civil case before another judge, when members of the public clogged up a line provided by the court for people outside the courthouse to listen in.