Beginning of the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell
A forensic illustration of Maxwell from day one of the trial.
Photo-Illustration: Intelligence; Photo: Elizabeth Williams / AP / Shutterstock
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Long before dawn, journalists and spectators began to queue. The last of them weren’t in the courtrooms until about noon; none were left behind. Out in the cold Vanity ShowGabe Sherman and his Jack Spade backpack posed probing questions to a woman holding a “Do you trust Gates With Your Body?” Sign, featuring, of course, photos of Jeffrey Epstein, Bill Gates and a vaccine syringe. The protester called us all stenographers – but then saw a good pal in line, just behind Gabe. They kissed. While waiting for a seat inside, Fox 5 legal hottie Mike Sacks and CBS’s Nathalie Nieves discussed their love for Milton – John Milton? The Paradise lost oborn? – and the seemingly important new Milton biography, Make darkness light.
The current courtroom in which Ghislaine Maxwell’s trial began today in lower Manhattan is simple, a bit drab, and uncrowded. It includes the notable addition in the COVID era of two Plexiglas and HEPA filtered boxes: one for the lawyer currently speaking and one for the person testifying. The witness box, to the left of the judge, is frightening even when it is empty. Its slightly shiny surface bears a reflection; the masked faces of those in the courtroom are reflected in black and white, stacked in rows, like a small snippet of the famous Overlook Hotel ballroom photo. It’s a strange effect.
After a last minute drama surrounding the final jury selection, the trial began with attorneys occupying the plexiglass container. The opening statement of the prosecution and defense went like one of those moments where you rehearse over and over and then, live, everything is flat and amateurish.
Most surprising were the number of ways that Maxwell’s lawyer, Bobbi Sternheim, called the women who accused her client of facilitating abuse a version of a money-hungry adventurer and gold digger. Sternheim called the four women, who will all testify in the case, desperate for fame or drugs. She even called an actress. âHis accusers rocked the money tree and millions of dollars fell in their way,â she said.
Sternheim has been talking about this for an extremely long time, and while the women who watched the courthouse closed-circuit broadcast in the overflow rooms openly shook their heads, we all know that argument will likely pass just fine.
The former is boring and will continue to attract a lot of attention. It’s a battle over the issues expert witnesses are allowed to address that has raged in court applications for ages now. (“Proxy grooming” is a highly contested concept; experts will not testify on the idea of ââpreparing victims on behalf of someone else because the academic literature is not there yet, apparently.)
Expert testimony will touch on other hot topics, such as women remembering events that happened to them many years ago – and that sort of thing interests the tabloids. Thus, you will hear about suggested memories, faded memories, and the nature of victimization. But expert witnesses are boring, sorry!
The second, however: It was surprising how much the opening speech revolved around the fact that the four government witnesses were all compensated by the Epstein Victims Fund. The fund, independently administered to settle claims against Epstein with money from his estate, paid about $ 125 million to 150 known victims. This means that it would be difficult to find witnesses who not compensated by this one.
As part of the compensation process, victims were interviewed at length about their claims in a private and empathetic environment. Many complaints were rejected; more were paid. Everyone was promised confidentiality. And now those conversations and their resulting pay stubs are provided to both parties in this lawsuit. (The information is intended to be kept confidential.)
So Maxwell’s lawyers believe the key here is not to prevent victims from testifying, but to testify more – building on those previous interviews, using their words to undermine the government’s cause.
I keep saying there will be no answers here. But there may be a few nearby, at least. The government seems confident that those who testify will shed light. Staff – including a pilot, who began testifying at the end of day one – are on that list. Outside the courtroom, an Epstein victim released a new book this week that will be the big glossy exclusive in a few days. Could this have an effect on the trial? Well, no, that’s not how testing works.
The trial will certainly not be undercover. Some of the best legal and Epstein journalists in the world are participating. Notably, Julie Brown from Miami Herald is in town. Much of what any of us know about Epstein is due to his years of work. She and other major newspapers, like Ben Weiser at Times, will do their job alongside the more aggressive guys like the Insider folks. For every viral paranoid tweet about how “media is ignoring this matter !!!! – and there are certainly many – there is a member of the media covering this matter.
Want to know more about the case? Don’t forget to check out our FAQ. Write to me when you have a question or when you are sure that I am wrong or that I am stupid! I probably won’t have time to answer all the emails, but I’ll at least listen to you and learn from you.