Keith Raniere specialized in taking photographs of naked women - but this is not one of his photos

Court Sidebar: Defense & Prosecution Attorneys Discuss Orgasms…

We’ve all watched televisions shows and movies involving courtroom scenes in which the attorneys for both sides huddle with the judge to discuss some important point that they do not want others to hear.

These “sidebar conferences” or “sidebars” usually take place near the judge’s bench – and away from the witness stand and the jury box.

Some courts now utilize “white noise” technology to ensure that sidebar conversations cannot be overheard by anyone other than the participants. That technology is, in fact, being used in the trial of the U.S. v. Raniere.

Even though this trial just started this week, there have already been several sidebar conferences.

One of them took place immediately after Sylvie was done testifying yesterday – and before she was cross-examined by Marc Agnifilo, Raniere’s lead attorney.

Marc Agnifilo and Paul DerOhanessian

The first topic of the discussion concerned how Agnifilo was going to question Sylvie in terms of whether she had an orgasm when Raniere performed oral sex on her.

Moira Kim Penza, the lead prosecutor in the case, was concerned that Agnifilo would try to establish that an orgasm implies consent (That concern may be related to Raniere’s oft-repeated claim that some women can only experience an orgasm when they’re being raped).

Moira Kim Penza and Keith Alan Raniere

In any event, Penza stated that there is no scientific basis for claiming that an orgasm implies consent – and that Agnifilo should be prevented from trying to establish one with respect to Sylvie.

Agnifilo indicated that he never intended to try establishing any such link. Instead, what he wanted to do is elicit from Sylvie whether she told Raniere that her sexual encounter with him was the first time she had ever had an orgasm – and that the experience had been pleasurable.

After Penza agreed that line of question would be acceptable, the presiding judge, U.S. District Court Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis, indicated that similar questions for other witnesses would be handled on a case-by-case basis.

Interestingly enough, a quick review of the transcript from his cross-examination indicates that Agnifilo never asked Sylvie any questions about her one sexual encounter with Raniere.

Which raises the question of why he said what he did about that topic during the sidebar.


Another issue that was discussed at the same sidebar concerned the 275 pages of evidence that Agnifilo had not previously turned over to the prosecution.

Much, if not all, of the material in question came from Raniere’s cell phone – which, according to Penza, he left behind in Mexico.

Included on that phone were all the messages – and all the naked photos – that Sylvie had sent to him via WhatsApp (For several months, she sent him at least one picture per day).

Penza objected to having the messages introduced as evidence on the grounds that it amounted to hearsay.

Agnifilo argued that he did not intend to have the messages admitted as evidence – but, instead, just wanted to use them to establish whether Sylvie had actually sent them to Raniere.

The judge ruled that Agnifilo could show the materials to Sylvie – and ask her whether she had actually sent the messages she was seeing.

This is how he was able to get Sylvie to admit that many of the messages she sent to Raniere had heart emojis in them – and included what would, by any objective measure, be considered to be words of affection.


There were several other sidebars regarding various evidentiary issues – but none as interesting as the one concerning Sylvie’s first orgasm.

About the author


News and art, national and local. Began as alternative weekly in 1990 in Buffalo, NY. Publishing content online since 1996.

%d bloggers like this: