Feds seek halt to civil lawsuit against Ghislaine Maxwell

iStock/Smikey26BY: JAMES HILL, ABC News

(FORT MYERS, Fla.) — Federal prosecutors pursuing the criminal case against Ghislaine Maxwell in New York are asking a judge to temporarily halt proceedings in a civil lawsuit filed by an alleged child sex-abuse victim against Maxwell and the estate of the late sex-offender Jeffrey Epstein, arguing that there is a “significant risk” that proceeding with the case “would adversely affect the ongoing criminal prosecution against Maxwell.”

In a letter posted to the court docket of the civil case this week, prosecutors from the Southern District of New York asserted that there is a “factual overlap between the civil and criminal cases” that could result in premature disclosure of evidence and testimony from witnesses who may be called upon in both cases.

“Such witnesses may be forced to testify about any efforts to assist the criminal investigation and prosecution, and may thereby expose facts about the investigation … and could potentially expose witnesses and/or their families to harassment,” the government’s letter states. “Moreover, permitting any discovery to proceed in this lawsuit would enable Maxwell to seek a preview of trial testimony in the criminal case, and would afford her with a broader array of discovery than she is entitled to in the criminal case.”

The civil lawsuit, filed in January under the pseudonym Jane Doe, contains allegations that are substantially similar to those contained in the criminal indictment against Maxwell, who allegedly groomed three minor girls to be abused by Epstein between 1994 and 1997 and, in some instances, participated in the abuse herself, according to prosecutors. Maxwell has pleaded not guilty to the charges and has denied the allegations in the civil suit.

In its letter to the court, the government declined to address speculation Maxwell’s attorneys have raised in court filings that Doe is one of the alleged victims identified in the criminal case, but prosecutors offered to make additional information available to the civil case judge privately, if necessary. Doe’s attorneys have declined to comment on the apparent parallels to the criminal case.

By advocating for a stay in the civil case, the government finds itself, in this instance, aligned with Maxwell and the co-executors of Epstein’s estate, who have been arguing for months that the case should be placed on hold while criminal investigations of Epstein’s alleged co-conspirators remain open.

“Absent a stay, Ms. Maxwell will be forced to choose between her constitutional right to remain silent and her active and vigorous participation in defending against and refuting [Doe’s] false claims in this case.” wrote Maxwell’s lawyer, Laura Menninger, in a letter to the court last week.

Doe’s lawyers have consistently opposed those efforts, arguing in court filings that a stay would “simply delay long overdue justice.”

“[Doe] is seeking to hold defendant Maxwell accountable for the heinous and sick sexual acts she committed against [her] over the course of several years while [she] was just a child,” wrote her lawyer, Robert Glassman of Panish, Shea & Boyle, LLP in a letter to the court. “[She] is best served by pressing forward with her claims — not waiting even longer for justice.”

Of more than 30 women who brought legal claims against Epstein’s estate following his death last year, Doe is the only accuser who has thus far declined to put her lawsuit on hold to pursue an alternative resolution via the Epstein Victims’ Compensation Fund, a voluntary non-adversarial program established by the estate that began evaluating claims in June.

Doe alleges in her complaint that she was first approached at age 13 by Epstein and Maxwell in 1994 at a summer camp at the Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan and that a months-long grooming process by Epstein and Maxwell continued after she returned home to Florida.

Doe, now 40, alleges that the sexual abuse by Epstein escalated over the next few years as Epstein and Maxwell asserted control over her life. She claims she was sexually abused at Epstein’s homes in Florida, New York and his ranch in New Mexico, and that she would often travel to those locations with Epstein and Maxwell on one of Epstein’s private jets.

“Epstein’s system of abuse was facilitated in large part by his co-conspirator and accomplice, Maxwell, who helped supply him with a steady stream of young and vulnerable girls,” the complaint said. “During Doe’s time in New York, Maxwell also regularly facilitated Epstein’s abuse of Doe and was frequently present when it occurred.”

Maxwell formally requested a stay in Doe’s case last month, arguing that Doe had failed to articulate a “cogent reason” for wanting to press ahead with her lawsuit while the criminal case is ongoing and while Doe can choose to present her claims to the estate’s compensation fund.

“If it is money she seeks, she can pursue it in the claims program,” Menninger wrote in a letter to the court last week. “If it is ‘justice’ she seeks, the criminal case will resolve those issues one way or the other.”

Doe’s lawyers have countered that a stay of the case would deprive her and the public with an opportunity to learn long-hidden information about Epstein’s alleged criminal sex-trafficking operation, and Maxwell’s alleged role in it.

“The continuation of this last remaining civil avenue can furnish the public with critical information as to defendant Maxwell’s well-known criminal enterprise, how it was operated and all those involved. A stay of the civil proceedings would provide what defendant Maxwell has sought for years—concealing her heinous acts from public view,” Glassman wrote to the court last month.

The government’s letter indicates that prosecutors, recognizing Doe’s interest in pursuing her case, had considered alternatives to its position before asking the court to put the case on hold pending Maxwell’s trial.

“After carefully considering the issues in this case and the pending criminal case, the Government respectfully submits that nothing short of a full stay of this matter would address the Government’s concerns and preserve the public’s substantial interest in avoiding interference with prosecution of the criminal case,” prosecutors wrote.

The judge overseeing Doe’s case has yet to issue a decision.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.