Court: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
Date Filed: Sept. 9, 2020
Update: On Oct. 19, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a summary order affirming the district court’s unsealing order in Giuffre v. Maxwell. “[T]he District Court correctly held that the deposition materials are judicial documents to which the presumption of public access attaches, and did not abuse its discretion in rejecting Maxwell’s meritless arguments that her interests superseded the presumption of access,” the Second Circuit wrote.
Background: In 2018, the Miami Herald and reporter Julie Brown moved to unseal records in a defamation case involving Virginia Giuffre, one of the victims of financier Jeffrey Epstein, and Ghislaine Maxwell, Epstein’s ex-girlfriend and former associate. After multiple appeals, hundreds of pages of records have been released as a result of the unsealing motion.
This appeal specifically concerns the unsealing of transcripts of an April 2016 deposition given by Maxwell and that of a non-party “Doe 1,” as well as court records quoting from and summarizing the transcripts.
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York held that the deposition records should be unsealed. Maxwell, who is now facing criminal perjury charges as a result of her deposition statements and other criminal charges, then appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, arguing that unsealing the deposition records will jeopardize her right to a fair trial, which the district court rejected.
Our Position: The Second Circuit should affirm the district court’s order unsealing the deposition records.
- The district court should not continue sealing the deposition records based on concerns the Second Circuit raised about previous news reports about unproven — or even false — allegations made in court records and proceedings. Selective sealing of certain documents only makes it more difficult for the press and public to obtain a full understanding of what is happening in the courts.
- Maxwell has not and cannot demonstrate that the unsealing of the records would prevent her from having a fair trial on the criminal charges against her.
- The public has a significant interest in the deposition records because alleged sexual assault and trafficking of minors, including the judicial system’s handling of these issues, are matters of the utmost public concern.
Quote: “[T]here is a significant public interest in the Deposition Records. The criminal allegations now pending against Maxwell — which include sexual assault and trafficking of minors, as well as a perjury charge arising out of her April 2016 deposition testimony — are matters of the utmost public concern, and the public will better understand those charges if the Deposition Records are unsealed.”
Related: In 2017, the Reporters Committee and a coalition of 18 media organizations submitted a friend-of-the-court brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit urging it to unseal certain court records in this case.
More than a year later, after the district court initially denied the Miami Herald’s motion to unseal records in the same case, the Reporters Committee and 32 media organizations supported the Herald’s appeal to the Second Circuit. In a friend-of-the-court brief, the media coalition argued that the district court erred in dismissing the significant public interest in the records of this case.