A pool of prospective jurors for the criminal trial of Ghislaine Maxwell will be questioned by a federal judge on Tuesday morning in Manhattan, two weeks before Maxwell's criminal trial is set to begin.
Maxwell, a one-time companion of deceased sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, is facing a six-count federal indictment alleging she conspired with Epstein and aided his serial sexual abuse of minor girls between 1994 and 2004. She has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
Over the last two weeks, the initial jury pool of about 600 people was culled to 231 after each candidate for the panel filled out a 25-page written questionnaire designed to screen for potential biases and conflicts of interest.
U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan of the Southern District of New York, who is overseeing Maxwell's trial, plans to further query each potential juror individually in open court on such topics as their exposure to media reporting about the case, their knowledge and opinions of both Maxwell and Epstein, and their ability to serve on a lengthy trial that will likely continue into January.
Maxwell's lawyers had previously argued for the court to conduct the questioning of potential jurors, a process known as "voir dire," in a confidential setting outside the view of the public and the press. They contended that extraordinary measures were necessary to effectively screen for exposure to a "tsunami" of publicity about the high-profile sex-trafficking case.
"This case amplifies the likelihood that jurors will be more apprehensive and constrained to respond openly and honestly in open court within earshot of other jurors, members of the public, and the media," Maxwell's attorney Bobbi C. Sternheim wrote in a court filing last month.
But Judge Nathan rejected that request, ruling that the public and the press have a constitutional right to observe jury selection. She also declined to include some proposed inquiries from Maxwell's legal team in the jury questionnaire that probed jurors' attitudes toward "people who are wealthy" and "people who have luxurious lifestyles."
Maxwell, 59, is the youngest child of Robert Maxwell, the multimillionaire British media tycoon who died in 1991. In court filings associated with her unsuccessful attempts to be released from custody, Ghislaine Maxwell disclosed assets of more than $20 million.
Nathan plans to question dozens of potential jurors each day this week, with the goal of identifying about 50 qualified jurors who will be asked to return on Nov. 29, the first day of the trial. Attorneys for the government and for Maxwell will then make their final strikes of jurors in order to seat a panel of 12 jurors and six alternates.
The jury will not be sequestered, Nathan said, but in order to protect their privacy, they will be publicly identified only by their assigned numbers.