Ghislaine Maxwell’s lead defense attorney, Bobbi Sternheim, and members of her family vowed to appeal the five guilty verdicts on sex trafficking and conspiracy charges as they left court on Wednesday, but their efforts to clear her face considerable obstacles.
The challenges will probably center on judicial rulings during the defense presentation that prevented Maxwell’s lawyers from putting some witnesses on the stand anonymously, and another that prevented defense attorneys from recalling two of Maxwell’s accusers.
“We have already started working on the appeal, and we are confident that she will be vindicated,” Sternheim told reporters outside the court.
To succeed in any appeal, the team would need to show that Judge Alison Nathan abused her discretion or violated rules of evidence. “It will be a difficult talk for the defense to win on appeal,” said New York appeals attorney Julie Rendelman. “Judge Nathan worked very hard to seat an impartial jury, and the defendant received a fair trial.”
One area that Maxwell’s defense could try and use as grounds for appeal is whether the jury felt rushed in their deliberations after they were told they would have to work through New Years and pressure from the risk of Covid interrupting deliberations.
“Did that play any role in their decision-making? At the same time, the jury was very expressive in their notes to the judge that they were taking the time they needed. The fact that they came back not guilty on one of the counts showed that they were taking the time to go through every piece of evidence,” Rendelman said.
Another issue to be raised could be the role of compensation to Epstein’s victims. Ahead of the trial, for instance, Maxwell’s defense said they planned to call officials from the Epstein Victims Compensation Fund, which has awarded nearly $125m to about 150 individuals.
The four witness against Maxwell received sums of up to $5m, and Maxwell’s defense had planned to introduce their statements to the fund to illuminate any inconsistencies in their testimony to the jury.
But lawyers say that even if an appeals court agreed to hear the case, Maxwell’s lawyers would need to show that any violations were material to the trial’s outcome.
A “harmless error” is not enough to overturn a conviction, Bennett Gershman, a professor at Pace Law School, told Reuters.
Appeals lawyers could also argue as grounds for a challenge Nathan’s instruction to the jury that Maxwell could be found guilty even if she had deliberately ignored evidence of Epstein’s wrongdoing.
Maxwell’s lawyers may also raise on appeal Nathan’s ruling preventing three defense witnesses from testifying anonymously.
“There’s precedent when it comes to sexual crimes for witnesses to have their names removed, but there’s no precedent in the defense’s request to have their witnesses testify under a pseudonym, so I think Judge Nathan felt she had no choice but to rule them inadmissable,” Rendelman said.