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Team battling to put Ghislaine Maxwell behind bars faces a 94-year experience gap with defense


In the Ghislaine Maxwell criminal trial, it’s a case of youth on one side and experience on the other.

The four prosecuting lawyers trying to put Ghislaine Maxwell behind bars for decades are all in their thirties, with a combined age of just 138 years.

Opposing them, Maxwell’s quartet of defense attorneys have an average age of 58 and in total are 94 years older than their adversaries.

‘It’s like The Rolling Stones versus The Killers,’ one court watcher told DailyMail.com. ‘They’re both heavyweights, although one has been around a lot longer.

‘It is very noticeable that Maxwell’s lawyers are not only older, but significantly more experienced.’  

Maxwell, who will turn 60 on Christmas Day, is accused of enticing a child to engage in sex acts, sex trafficking, transporting a minor across state lines with intent to engage in illegal sex acts and three counts of conspiracy.

Lead defense counsel Bobbi Sternheim, 67, gives off a retired punk vibe with her oversize blazers, and hipster gran glasses,’ said one court-watcher. Sternheim’s case relies heavily on getting the jury to believe — in her words — that ‘Maxwell is not Epstein’ and that she is a scapegoat who has been charged to allow the government to save some face for not stopping his suicide

At 37, Lara Pomerantz is the oldest member of the prosecution team. 'It's like the Rolling Stones versus The Killers,’ one court watcher said. ‘They’re both heavyweights, although one has been around a lot longer'

The charges all relate to her friendship with convicted child molester Jeffrey Epstein, who was found hanged in an apparent suicide in a federal prison in New York in 2019 as he awaited trial.

Maxwell faces a potential sentence of 80 years in prison if found guilty of all charges.

She has been in federal custody since being arrested in the tiny town of Bradford, New Hampshire, in July last year. She had bought the house for just over $1 million the previous December. 

 THE DEFENSE TEAM

Maxwell, the daughter of a British press baron who swindled millions of dollars from his company before falling off his yacht and drowning, has carefully picked the team she believes has the best chance of keeping her free.

Leading her defense team is Bobbi Sternheim, 68, a colorful character whose choice of clothing is in direct contrast to the black or gray suits that predominate among the lawyers.

‘She gives off a retired punk vibe with her oversize blazers, and hipster gran glasses,’ said the court-watcher. ‘She looks kind of badass.’

Sternheim’s previous most high-profile client was Osama bin Laden henchman Khaled al-Fawwaz, who was accused of the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa, that killed 224 people, including a dozen Americans.

Her law firm's biography notes she also persuaded the US attorney general to de-authorize a federal death penalty case and says she launched a gender discrimination suit against the Saudi Mission.

Her hour-plus-long opening statement on day one of the Maxwell trial last week was convincing and relatable. Her speech about 'money, memory and manipulation' was powerful even though many in court thought it relied too much on victim shaming.

Sternheim’s case relies heavily on getting the jury to believe — in her words — that ‘Maxwell is not Epstein’ and that she is a scapegoat who has been charged to allow the government to save some face for not stopping his suicide.

‘The charges against Ghislaine Maxwell are for things that Jeffrey Epstein did — but she is not Jeffrey Epstein,’ she told jurors. 

Defense attorney Christian Everdell's experience is mainly in defending white-collar crimes such as fraud, money laundering and Secrecy Act violations while Bobbi Sternheim once defended one of Osama bin Laden's henchmen in a bombing trial

Denver-based lawyers Laura Menninger and Jeffrey Pagliuci are key members of Maxwell's defense team. Menninger can appear imperious and witheringly sarcastic in court. Pagliuci is close to Maxwell telling her: 'sleep tight, don't let the bedbugs bite'

Bobbi Sternheim gives the thumbs up as she arrives at court on December 7. Her experience over the prosecution team may give her an advantage but 'there's still a long way to go in the trial 

The rest of the defense team is made up of Christian Everdell, 47, Jeffrey Pagliuca, 64, and Laura Menninger, 53. The latter two are based in Denver with the law firm Haddon, Morgan and Foreman. 

Everdell is a white-collar defense attorney with the Manhattan firm Cohen and Gresser. According to the company’s website he ‘has extensive experience in matters involving securities and commodities fraud, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, international money laundering, and Bank Secrecy Act violations.’ 

Everdell, a graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law School, hammered at the credibility of prosecution witness Juan Alessi — Epstein's one-time house manager — by getting him to admit that he had stolen thousands of dollars from Epstein, going back to his Palm Beach mansion to steal more.

He is a former prosecutor who helped bring down Mexican cartel kingpin Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman during more than a decade as assistant US Attorney in the Southern District of New York.  

Menninger often stands with both hands on the lectern — which is encased by a plastic box with a filter so the lawyers can take off their mask to speak without fear of contaminating others in the courtroom.

She can appear imperious, forensic and at times witheringly sarcastic, such as when she suggested it was 'another typo?' by the FBI that explained a contradiction between the testimony of the alleged victim known as 'Jane' and what she said during a previous interview. 

Menninger, who went to Duke and Stanford Law School, drew repeated contrasts like this and forced Jane to say 'I don't recall' many times. On another occasion Menninger said that Jane 'came up' with one of her memories which came over as a strong attack.  

Pagliuca appears closest to Maxwell — even telling her at the end of business one afternoon ‘sleep tight and don’t let the bedbugs bite.’

Maxwell makes a point of starting each day with a hug for all of her team. She shows that she is very much involved in her defense strategy by passing them index cards on which she has written points she feels are important.

During Everdell’s cross-examination of Alessi, she passed him a card and he immediately changed tack by asking if he had ever heard of someone called Carolyn, one of Maxwell’s four accusers.

‘It shows she is very much directing things,’ said the court watcher.

Maxwell faces up to 80 years in federal prison if found guilty of all charges. Epstein died of an apparent suicide in 2019 while being held in federal custody in Manhattan awaiting trials on child molesting charges

 THE PROSECUTION TEAM

Opening for the prosecution, Lara Pomerantz, 37, showed a totally different style, giving a punchy presentation in just 25 minutes that lacked the meticulous detail that Sternheim included in hers.

But just because the defense team has the history, it doesn’t mean they are necessarily ahead. ‘Some people are already hinting that this will be a botched prosecution story — but there's still a long way to go,’ cautioned our court watcher.

The prosecution has countered that Epstein and his one-time lover were ‘partners in crime' and she ‘served up’ young girls so the multi-millionaire could abuse them at his homes in Manhattan, New Mexico, Palm Beach and on his own Caribbean island.

‘Behind closed doors the defendant and Epstein were committing heinous crimes. They were sexually abusing teenage girls,’ Pomerantz, an alumna of Duke and Penn Law School, said.

‘She put them at ease and made them feel safe, all so that they could be sexually abused by a middle-aged man. There were times when she was in the room when it happened,’ Pomerantz added.

Lead prosecutor Lara Pomerantz points at Ghislaine Maxwell during opening statements at the start of her trial on charges of sex trafficking in New York, in a courtroom sketch

Prosecutor Alison Moe (left) was involved in the prosecution of Trump ally Steve Bannon before the former president pardoned him. Her colleague Maurene Comey (right) is the eldest of former FBI director James Comey's five children

Pomerantz has worked in Public Corruption Unit in the Southern District of New York, based in Manhattan, since 2015.

Andrew Rohrbach is the fourth prosecutor in the case. So far he has examined law enforcement officers and argued legal points

That fact has led some to speculate another shoe may still drop in the case. ‘The fact that it is staffed out of Public Corruption tells me that a public official — past or present — is involved in at least some capacity," legal analyst Elie Honig told Law and Crime.

Pomerantz studied at Duke and the University of Pennsylvania Law School, receiving a Fulbright Scholarship to study ‘the future of sex education in the Dominican Republic.’

She has made her reputation by prosecuting sex crime cases including a United Nations official charged with drugging and sexually assaulting several women.

A key member of the prosecution is Maurene Comey, 33, the daughter of former FBI director James Comey. 

She led Epstein’s Alessi through his testimony to devastating effect.

‘She has appeared the most confident of the prosecution team so far,’ said the court watcher, who has been in court throughout the trial. ‘Alessi’s evidence put Maxwell right at the center of Epstein’s Palm Beach operation.’  

Maxwell makes a point of starting each day with a hug for all of her team. Here the court sketch artist pictures her with Bobbi Sternheim

Maxwell's case is being heard in the imposing Thurgood Marshal US Courthouse in Lower Manhattan, where previous defendants have included Martha Stewart and Ivan Boesky, who inspired Michael Douglas's Gordon Gecko character in the movie Wall Street 

The other two prosecution lawyers are Alison Moe, a member of the US Attorney’s Public Corruption Unit, and Andrew Rohrbach. Both are 34.

Moe — who was involved in the federal prosecution of Donald Trump ally Steve Bannon before Trump pardoned him during his last days in office — has argued most of the technical legal matters, but also helped clear up after a devastating cross-examination of the soap opera actress known in court as ‘Jane’.

She graduated from Dartmouth College and Columbia Law School. 

Rohrbach, who went to both Harvard and Yale, has had a more minor role so far examining law enforcement officers and arguing legal points.