By Eric Levenson, CNN
(CNN) — The judge overseeing a settled lawsuit against convicted sex offender Ghislaine Maxwell must now decide whether the identities of those named in the lawsuit will be revealed.
The decision stems from a 2015 defamation lawsuit filed by Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who claimed that Jeffrey Epstein sexually assaulted her when she was underage and that Maxwell contributed to the abuse. The case was settled in 2017 and placed under a protective order.
But parts of it have since been unsealed, as Giuffre, Maxwell and a number of third-party figures debated what should and shouldn’t be made public.
The latest update to the years-long case came last week, when Maxwell’s attorneys said they would stop fighting to keep the names of eight “John Does” secret and will leave it to the court to decide whether their names should be unsealed.
U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska will now have to decide how to handle these eight acts and how to balance the public interest with their privacy rights.
It’s the type of decision judges have to make all the time as part of their job, but it doesn’t make it any easier, said Sarah Krissoff, partner at Day Pitney and former assistant U.S. district attorney. southern New York.
“It’s really a document-by-document process,” Krissoff said. “It’s incredibly intensive.”
What is this case?
The case began in 2015 when Giuffre sued Maxwell for defamation related to public comments about Giuffre’s alleged sexual abuse in 2001, and the case was settled and sealed in 2017.
However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit unsealed hundreds of pages of documents August 9, 2019 — one day before Epstein died in prison — ruling that the district court judge improperly sealed hundreds of documents. This judge has since died.
The Court of Appeal also sent the case back to the district court to review the rest of the documents individually and determine what can be unsealed.
Judge Preska, who has since taken over the case, decided to unseal more documents in July 2020, including Maxwell’s 2016 deposition related to the lawsuit as well as emails and depositions from others.
In her ruling, she said the public’s right to access information outweighed Maxwell’s “annoyance or embarrassment.”
“In the context of this case, in particular its allegations of sex trafficking of young girls, the court finds that any minor embarrassment or embarrassment resulting from Ms. Maxwell’s non-testimony … is largely outweighed by the presumption of public access,” said she declared. noted.
However, Preska judged that several medical records included in court documents would remain sealed. Additionally, she noted that the multiple anonymous women — “Jane Does” who accused Epstein of abuse but had not spoken out publicly — would continue to have their identities redacted in the documents.
Although the defamation case was a civil suit, it ultimately led to criminal charges against Maxwell. She was charged with two counts of perjury for her 2016 civil deposition in the case.
Maxwell, 60, faces up to 65 years in prison after being found guilty last month in federal court in New York on five federal counts, including sex trafficking of a minor. The two counts of perjury were separated of the sex trafficking trial, and prosecutors agreed to dismiss them pending an appeal on his guilty verdicts.
What about those John Does?
In a September 2021 ruling, Preska said there were 16 “nonpartisan objectors,” or non-parties to the lawsuit who objected to having their identities disclosed. Preska decided to deal with eight of them first, followed by the next eight.
The identity of these hinds is of course not clear. Basically, however, these are people whose names were mentioned in the previous defamation case.
Maxwell’s lawyers had argued that those identities should be kept secret, but last week told the court they no longer wished to address objections.
“Each of the Do’s listed has attorneys who have skillfully asserted their own respective privacy rights. Ms. Maxwell therefore leaves it to this Court to make the appropriate review.”
Giuffre’s lawyers argued that their identities should not be sealed, noting that several of the Does simply did not want their names associated with the case.
“[G]the widespread aversion to embarrassment and negativity that may arise from association with Epstein and Maxwell is not enough to justify the continued news shutdown. This is especially true in relation to this matter of great public interest, involving serious allegations of sex trafficking of minors,” Giuffre’s attorney, Sigrid McCawley, wrote last week.
“Now that Maxwell’s criminal trial has passed, there is no longer any reason to retain protection over the vast swathes of information about Epstein and Maxwell’s sex trafficking operation that was originally filed under seal in this case.”
What issues will the judge consider in this decision?
Judges must always balance the public’s right to know with privacy issues, Krissoff noted. Generally, this is done document by document or even line by line rather than in a general decision.
“It’s about determining very precisely whether a specific document should be sealed or not, and within that document, whether any parts should be redacted or not,” she said.
In this case, these decisions are taken years after the fact by a judge who was not involved in the initial proceedings. This challenge helps explain why this process evolved so slowly, Krissoff explained.
“When you do it later and you have to look back and recreate what happened and do some research, it takes a lot longer,” she said.
What is the deadline for a decision?
The exact timing of a decision isn’t entirely clear, but a November court document set out the timeline for each side’s responses.
Giuffre and Maxwell were ordered to respond no later than two weeks after Maxwell’s criminal trial ended. The trial ended in late December and the parties dutifully filed their responses last week.
The Miami Herald, which has covered the Epstein saga closely, could file a responding brief no later than two weeks after that, the ruling judge says. This would correspond to January 26.
Non-party objectors may file a response to these briefs one week later. Parties must then file their responses no later than two weeks after that, the ruling says, setting the timeline for mid-February. A decision would then come sometime after that.
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