Ghislaine Maxwell’s attack-the-victim strategy may backfire

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) – The bail hearing for Ghislaine Maxwell ended with a judge ruling that she must spend the next year behind bars awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges tied to her former boyfriend Jeffrey Epstein. But it also offered hints at her defence strategy.

During the two-hour video-conference hearing Tuesday, Maxwell’s lawyers questioned the credibility of her accusers as well as the strength of the government’s case.

A courtroom sketch shows Ghislaine Maxwell appearing via video link during her arraignment hearing in New York.
A courtroom sketch shows Ghislaine Maxwell appearing via video link during her arraignment hearing in New York.PHOTO: REUTERS

While the arguments were designed to win bail, they will likely be the same ones used at the 58-year-old’s trial, which is scheduled to start next July.

The federal charges stem from events that are more than two decades old, Maxwell’s lawyer, Mark Cohen, said, noting that the government does not have “tapes or video” or other such evidence to support the allegations.

And, he challenged the motives of the three women who the government says were sexually abused by Maxwell and the disgraced financier.

“Absolutely, the defence is telegraphing where they’re going,” said David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor who listened in on Maxwell’s hearing.

“While the defence isn’t putting all of their cards on the table, they showed they’re going to argue that she was as much a victim of Epstein – much in the same way as these girls were – and that she didn’t know what was going on behind closed doors.”

Cohen briefly took aim at Annie Farmer, one of Maxwell’s accusers who at Tuesday’s hearing said Maxwell had lured her into Epstein’s orbit to be sexually abused when she was just 16.

He said she has sued Maxwell and is seeking a payout from a fund set up for Epstein’s victims, Cohen said.

Established in May, Epstein’s victims can be compensated by the financier’s estate, valued at more than US$600 million (S$830 million).

“One of the people who spoke before your honour is a plaintiff in one of those lawsuits seeking millions of dollars from our client and seeking millions of dollars from a fund that’s being set up,” Cohen said.

“That’s something for the court to consider.”

That’s a dangerous tactic by the defence and might backfire at trial, said David Boies, who represents Farmer and several other women who say they were sexually abused by Epstein and Maxwell.

It’s “a tone-deaf argument” to be made in the post #MeToo era and cost Maxwell her credibility, said Boies, who listened to the hearing remotely.

“To mount a ‘blame the victim’ defence, particularly in today’s world, and trying to blame these girls for what happened is so contrary to the evidence, is so contrary to people’s normal sense of morality,” Boies said.

“I think that’s just going to enrage a jury if she goes to trial – which I would not do if I were representing her.”

Boies said Farmer would stand up to cross-examination if there is a trial.

Farmer, who addressed the court via telephone, urged the judge not to grant Maxwell bail, calling her a “sexual predator who groomed and abused me.” Maxwell “lied under oath and tormented her survivors,” Farmer said.

Maxwell lured Farmer into Epstein’s orbit when she was a teenager who “wanted to go to college,” Boies said.

“Maxwell and Epstein tell Annie and her mother, ‘We’re having a group of high school students to this ranch to help them get into college’, ” Boies said. “But when Annie gets there, there are no high school students. All these claims are fraudulent and she’s in this isolated place in New Mexico.”

REMOTE HEARING

Because of the pandemic, Maxwell’s hearing was held remotely with press and the public permitted to hear arguments over the phone. About 60 reporters were allowed to watch the proceeding on monitors in a jury room in the Manhattan courthouse, with the judge, lawyers and Maxwell all in different locations.

Cohen argued the allegations were more than two decades old and that there were “no videos” to support them. The prosecutors said they have travel records, photographs and other documents that will support the charges.

Tuesday’s hearing also provided a glimpse into what a trial may look like when Maxwell faces her accusers and their emotional testimony.

Along with Farmer’s remarks, Assistant US Attorney Alison Moe read from a letter written by another of Maxwell’s alleged victims, who asked to be identified only as Jane Doe, who could eventually testify against her.

“Without Ghislaine, Jeffrey could not have done what he did,” the woman said.

“She was in charge. She egged him on and encouraged him. She told me of others she recruited and she thought it was funny.”

The woman said Maxwell “was a predator and a monster” who once confided in her that she enjoyed entrapping her victims “through emotional manipulation.”

The judge scheduled the trial for July 12 and directed Maxwell’s defence to file its pretrial motions by Dec 21.

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