US Court of Appeals upholds district court decision to open records from Maxwell case

Tonda Rush

Oct 30, 2020

Celebrity figure Ghislaine Maxwell lost an appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to enforce a seal on court records from her 2016 Florida testimony in a civil suit by Virginia Roberts Giuffre against the late Jeffrey Epstein.

National Newspaper Association joined a group of media organizations in an amicus brief filed by Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press to seek the opening of the 2016 records. The result is the unsealing of a 418-page deposition transcript that prosecutors say will reveal the inner workings of Epstein’s empire.

Epstein died of an apparent suicide in a New York detention facility.

Maxwell, the daughter of British newspaper mogul Robert Maxwell, is in the custody of New York since she was arrested in July on charges of helping Epstein to sexually abuse adolescent girls. She was also charged with perjury from the Florida case, which made the details of the earlier testimony relevant to the current prosecution. Her legal team has argued that unsealing the deposition could taint the jury pool.

But the Second Circuit disagreed, upholding a lower court’s decision to open the records. It said:

“The 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public access attaches, and did not abuse its discretion in rejecting Maxwell’s meritless arguments that her interests superseded the presumption of access.”

NNA Chair Brett Wesner, president of Wesner Publications, Cordell, Oklahoma, said NNA participated in the amicus brief to advance its conviction that court records should be open to the public and the press.

“The fact that this case is more notorious than the many our newspapers typically cover does not blind us to the fact that forces of secrecy are chipping away purposefully at public access,” he said. “But what goes on in the courts is the public’s business. NNA stands for the principles of First Amendment access.”

Tonda Rush is the director of public policy and serves as general counsel to the National Newspaper Association. Email her at