The judge presiding over the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell has cited an “astronomical spike” in the number of coronavirus cases in New York City as she explained why she was urging jurors to work longer hours.
Judge Alison J Nathan said aloud what had largely gone unmentioned in her previous requests to get the jury to work an extra day last week and longer hours this week as it decides whether Maxwell recruited and groomed teenage girls to be sexually abused by Jeffrey Epstein.
The jury declined to work an extra day last week.
“We now face a high and escalating risk that jurors and trial participants may need to quarantine,” Judge Nathan told lawyers.
“We are simply in a different place regarding the pandemic than we were a week ago.”
Late on Monday, the judge told jurors they should expect to deliberate until at least 6pm beginning on Tuesday rather than stopping at 5pm, as they had earlier.
Fuelled by the Omicron variant, coronavirus cases in the city have rocketed from an average of about 3,400 a day in the week that ended December 12 to 22,000 in the week that ended on Sunday.
Laura Menninger, a defence lawyer, told Judge Nathan on Monday any suggestion that the jury stay later “is beginning to sound like urging them to hurry up”.
“We would object to trying to urge them to stay later if they are not asking to do so and aren’t expressing any difficulty in proceeding with the deliberations that they are currently undertaking,” Ms Menninger said.
Ms Menninger noted the jury was continuing to request transcripts of trial testimony and other materials that indicate they are working diligently.
Tuesday marked the fourth full day of deliberations as jurors decide Maxwell’s fate on six charges alleging she played a crucial role in Epstein’s sexual abuse of teenage girls between 1994 and 2004.
Defence lawyers have said Maxwell, 60, is being used as a scapegoat by prosecutors after the US government was embarrassed by Epstein’s suicide at a federal jail in Manhattan in August 2019 while he awaited a sex trafficking trial.
Maxwell was arrested in July 2020 and has remained in jail after Judge Nathan repeatedly rejected bail attempts.