Judge rules Ghislaine Maxwell's potential jurors will not be screened privately

Judge rules Ghislaine Maxwell's potential jurors will not be screened privately
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U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan ruled on Thursday that the press and the public would have access to jury selection proceedings next month relating to Ghislaine Maxwell's case. 

The Associated Press reported that in addition to two pool reporters that will be allowed in the courtroom, the proceedings would be available via video feeds to an overflow courtroom and a courthouse press room.

"We’re all aware that there’s been intense media and public interest in this case. ... These procedures will ensure the First Amendment rights to public access as is necessary and required by law,” Nathan said, according to the AP.

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Attorneys representing Maxwell, the alleged accomplice of deceased sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, argued in court that jurors for her case should be questioned privately to ensure she faces an "open-minded jury."

Maxwell's legal representation's argument in Manhattan federal court was on the grounds that added privacy was necessary amid a "tsunami" of public attention surrounding Maxwell's case, according to ABC News.

"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," Bobbi Sternheim, an attorney for Maxwell, said in a court filing last week.

Sternheim said that Maxwell's negative publicity has caused her to be "demonized in the press," ABC reported.

Meanwhile, prosecutors argued that there is "no persuasive reason" that should compel Nathan to move away from the "well-established practice" of jury selection.

"The Court should ask most questions in open court and ask sensitive questions, such as those that relate to sexual abuse and media exposure, at sidebar," Assistant U.S. Attorney Alison Moe argued, per ABC.

ABC reported that the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) along with a group of 17 media organizations also objected on Wednesday to making jury selection, known as voir dire, more secretive.

"Voir dire is a critical stage of criminal proceedings, and the public interest in favor of access to voir dire is correspondingly weighty," RCFP attorney Katie Townsend wrote in a letter to Nathan, according to ABC.

The media groups also requested that a proposed jury questionnaire was also filed under seal last week be made available to the public.

But Maxwell's lawyers said that those documents should be kept private "to avoid media coverage that may prejudice the jury selection process."

Nathan's Thursday decision also denied this request and ruled that the questionnaire would be made public, the AP reported. 

In Manhattan federal court, jurors are typically questioned by a judge in open court. 

Jury selection is scheduled to begin Nov. 4 with opening statements scheduled for Nov. 29, the AP noted.

Maxwell has pleaded not guilty to allegedly helping carry out a sex trafficking scheme by Epstein, who died in jail while awaiting trial in August 2019. Maxwell is accused of befriending the young girls whom Epstein abused in an effort to put them at ease.

The Hill has reached out to Maxwell's legal representation for more information. 

Prosecutors would not comment on the case due to the ongoing nature of the litigation.