NEW YORK -- An inquiry into possible juror misconduct at British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell’s sex trafficking trial will be limited to his answers to two responses on a lengthy questionnaire during jury selection to prevent an “intrusive fishing expedition” by defense lawyers, a judge said in an opinion released Friday.
U.S. District Judge Alison J. Nathan said in the partially redacted decision dated Thursday that she’ll question a juror on March 8 about his answers to two questions on a 50-question questionnaire to learn why he said he’d never been a victim of sexual abuse or a victim of a crime even though he revealed after the trial that he had.
Maxwell, 60, was convicted in late December of sex trafficking and other charges alleging that she recruited teenage girls from 1994 to 2004 for financier Jeffrey Epstein to sexually abuse. She awaits a June sentencing. Epstein, 66, killed himself in a Manhattan federal jail cell in August 2019 while awaiting a sex trafficking trial.
The juror cast doubt on the Maxwell trial verdict when he told news outlets in January that he had disclosed to fellow jurors during a weeklong deliberation that he was a child sex abuse victim and convinced other jurors that a victim’s imperfect memory of sex abuse doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
Nathan rejected requests by Maxwell's lawyers to immediately order a new trial or to let defense attorneys gather evidence such as communications the juror had through social media or by email with alleged victims or witnesses, other jurors or media representatives. They also sought evidence of payments he might have received for any interview or information he gave about his jury service.
“The Court denies these requests as vexatious, intrusive, unjustified, and a fishing expedition,” the judge wrote.
She said it was “procedurally improper” for Maxwell's attorneys to subpoena social media companies for records.
“The Court concludes that the Defendant has not made a showing that any pre-hearing discovery is appropriate, and the request to engage in an intrusive fishing expedition is denied,” Nathan said.
A lawyer for Maxwell did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Nathan cited previous cases and rulings by appeals courts to show that the inquiry into the conduct of a juror identified in documents only as “Juror No. 50” must be limited and that other jurors will not be questioned.
But she also wrote that his “direct, unambiguous statements to multiple media outlets” provide substantial and incontrovertible evidence that an impropriety — a false statement — during jury selection has occurred.
“To be clear, the potential impropriety is not that someone with a history of sexual abuse may have served on the jury. Rather, it is the potential failure to respond truthfully to questions during the jury selection process that asked for that material information so that any potential bias could be explored,” she said.
She said her decision, announced Thursday, to order an evidentiary public hearing where she will question the juror was made necessary because he checked the “No” box as his answer to Question 48.
The question asked: Have you or a friend or family member ever been the victim of sexual harassment, sexual abuse, or sexual assault? (This includes actual or attempted sexual assault or other unwanted sexual advance, including by a stranger, acquaintance, supervisor, teacher, or family member.)
Nathan said she will also question the juror about why he checked “No” to Question 25, which asked: Have you, or any of your relatives or close friends, ever been a victim of a crime?
She said the purpose of her questions for the juror will be to determine if he has engaged in any misconduct warranting a new trial.