Former Jeffrey Epstein companion Ghislaine Maxwell seeks to keep court records under seal
The files may "inappropriately influence potential witnesses," her lawyer said.
Attorneys for Ghislaine Maxwell, the former companion of deceased sex-offender Jeffrey Epstein, are asking a federal judge to keep a batch of court records under seal, arguing that public interest in the documents is outweighed by privacy considerations and the potential impact a release of the documents could have on an ongoing criminal investigation into alleged accomplices of Epstein.
"Ms. Maxwell ... is aware that investigations surrounding the alleged conduct of Mr. Epstein survive his death. It is unclear who are witnesses or targets of any investigation," Maxwell's attorney, Jeffrey Pagliuca, wrote Wednesday in a filing objecting to unsealing certain documents. "The sealed testimony or summaries may inappropriately influence potential witnesses or alleged victims."
The sealed court filings in the case -- a now-settled civil defamation lawsuit filed against Maxwell in 2015 by Virginia Roberts Giuffre -- are said to contain the names of hundreds of people, some famous and some not, who socialized, traveled or worked with Epstein over the span of more than a decade. The late financier has previously been linked to a coterie of high-profile business leaders, scientists, royalty and politicians.
Epstein, a convicted sex offender, was found dead in an apparent suicide in prison while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges that he denied.
Among the records now being considered for release is a 418-page transcript of one of Maxwell's multi-hour depositions in the case, which Maxwell's attorneys argue were given under an expectation of confidentiality that had been agreed to by both sides in the dispute, according to Maxwell's court filing.
"This series of pleadings concerns [Giuffre's] attempt to compel Ms. Maxwell to answer intrusive questions about her sex life," Pagliuca wrote. "The subject matter of these [documents] is extremely personal, confidential, and subject to considerable abuse by the media."
The collection of documents now being reviewed for potential release by Senior U.S. District Court Judge Loretta Preska represents just a small subset of the thousands of pages of documents that must be reviewed for potential release, a process that could drag on for many months.
Giuffre has accused Maxwell of facilitating and participating in Epstein's abuse of minor girls. Maxwell has denied Giuffre's allegations. When the defamation case was settled in 2017, a substantial portion of the court docket remained sealed or redacted. The sealed records include the identities of people who provided information in the case under an expectation of confidentiality, plus the names of alleged victims and individuals accused of enabling Epstein or participating in the abuse.
Maxwell attorneys argue that the bulk of the sealed documents and exhibits should stay sealed, contending that they "were gratuitous and served no legitimate purpose" when they were submitted by Giuffre's attorneys and because many of the documents contain the names of dozens of non-parties who have yet to receive notice that the records could be made public.
An attorney for Giuffre did not respond to a request for comment on Maxwell's court filing.
Giuffre, now a 36-year-old mother living in Australia, alleges she was sexually abused as a teenager by Epstein and Maxwell between 2000 and 2002. She also claims to have been directed to have sex with some of their prominent friends, including Britain's Prince Andrew. She filed the action against Maxwell in September 2015, alleging that the former British socialite defamed her when her publicist issued a statement referring to Giuffre's allegations as "obvious lies."
For the next year and a half, attorneys for the two women engaged in an acrimonious duel of pre-trial arguments, much of which took shape in heavily redacted or sealed court filings. The case settled just before a trial was set to begin in May 2017. A year later, the Miami Herald newspaper filed an ultimately successful motion to unseal at least some portions of the undisclosed record of the case.
Lawyers representing Giuffre, Maxwell, the Herald, and an anonymous individual who intervened to assert privacy interests, have been haggling for the last several months over their favored approaches to unsealing the records. The arguments over the protocols alone amounted to more than 50 additional entries on the court docket before Judge Preska arrived at the final procedure.
Earlier this month, notification letters were sent to two "John Does," anonymous individuals whose names are among several dozen that appear in just the first batch of sealed and redacted documents currently under review by Preska, according to court records. Neither of those individuals responded to the letters, according to Maxwell's court filing.
Giuffre has advocated for near-total disclosure of the records, while Maxwell and attorneys for the intervening individual have urged Preska to carefully balance the intense public interest in the case against potentially "life-changing" reputational damage that could befall those whose names are made public. Because the parties reached a confidential settlement, the allegations leveled in the dispute are unproven, having never been tested by an independent trier of fact.
Previously unsealed records from the case have already generated headlines around the world after a federal appeals court released more than 2,000 pages of documents last August, a month after Epstein's arrest by federal authorities in New York.
Included in that collection were excerpts from Giuffre's depositions naming several prominent men she alleges Epstein and Maxwell directed her to have sex with, including Prince Andrew, attorney Alan Dershowitz, former U.S. Senator George Mitchell and former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson. All of those men, and others accused by Giuffre, have denied the allegations.
"The documents and exhibits should be carefully examined for the vivid, detailed and tragic story they tell in the face of cursory, bumper sticker-like statements by those accused," Giuffre's attorney, Sigrid McCawley, wrote in a statement on the day of the documents' release. "Virginia Roberts Giuffre is a survivor and a woman to be believed. She believes a reckoning of inevitable accountability has begun."
The morning after that first set of documents was made public, Epstein was found unresponsive in his jail cell in Manhattan, where he was being held pending trial on charges of child sex-trafficking and conspiracy.
Maxwell, 58, is the daughter of the late British publishing magnate Robert Maxwell, who died in 1991 in what was ruled an accidental drowning off the coast of the Canary Islands. She met Epstein in New York following her father's death, and the two were closely linked for more than a decade. Sources tell ABC News that Maxwell remains under criminal investigation by federal authorities in New York, who have vowed to hold responsible any alleged co-conspirators in Epstein's sex trafficking conspiracy.
In previously unsealed excerpts from her depositions in the case, Maxwell derided Giuffre as an "absolute liar." She has also denied allegations from Giuffre and other women who contend in court filings that Maxwell recruited and trained girls and young women for Epstein and facilitated their abuse.
"She absolutely denies that she participated in this or any other sexual abuse or trafficking or assault, and no court, judge or jury has ever determined that she has," an attorney for Maxwell wrote last month in a related case.