A federal appeals court is on the verge of unsealing hundreds of documents that could provide new evidence against alleged child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein and many of his potential cohorts.
On March 11, a three-judge panel at the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York City gave all parties involved in a multi-year attempt to unseal court documents from a 2015 defamation case until March 19 to establish why the documents should remain sealed.
Failure to do so will result in more than 1,000 sealed or redacted documents becoming public.
The case was brought by one of Epstein’s alleged victims, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, and levied against his former partner, British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell.
According to a lower court ruling, Giuffre alleged that she was a “victim of sexual trafficking and abuse while she was a minor child,” and that Maxwell helped facilitate the abuse, which allegedly occurred over a decade at numerous locations “around the world,” and “with prominent and politically powerful men.”
The lawsuit asserted that Giuffre was subjected to “public ridicule, contempt, and disgrace” when Maxwell publicly denied her allegations. The two settled before trial in 2017.
However, Judge Robert Sweet of the District Court for the Southern District of New York said the case involved “a lengthy and tumultuous discovery process” with “extreme sensitivities and privacy interests.” As a result, he placed a protective order on the summary judgment and discovery documents spanning 18 hearings and 15 related decisions.
The Miami Herald has since spearheaded an attempt to unseal those documents. Epstein lawyer Alan Dershowitz and conservative filmmaker Michael Cernovich have also filed motions to unseal them, while only Maxwell remains opposed.
On March 6, the Herald offered oral arguments before the federal appeals court with the support of 32 other media organizations, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Fox News, and The Associated Press.
Judge Sweet’s previous ruling to keep the documents under wraps was challenged by the media coalition. According to a joint amici brief, the court “severely undervalued the powerful public interest in this case and vastly overstated the asserted countervailing interests in favor of secrecy.”
“It further argues that the district court should have done an individualized right of access analysis on each judicial record, rather than authorizing blanket sealing and redaction,” the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press said in a statement.
So far, the appeals court is signaling agreement.
Following the March 19 ultimatum, Sanford Bohrer, the attorney representing The Miami Herald, was optimistic. “We’re grateful that the court ruled the summary judgment papers are open and they are moving to expedite having them unsealed,” he said.
Epstein, a wealthy 66-year-old financier, has been accused of molesting dozens of underage girls at his Palm Beach, Florida, mansion, and 72-acre private island estate in the Caribbean. The alleged abuses involved girls as young as 13 years old and took place over a period of years beginning nearly two decades ago.
In 2007, the politically connected former hedge fund manager received a stunning plea deal from federal prosecutors—now under investigation at the Department of Justice.
While facing the possibility of life in prison under human trafficking laws, Epstein was allowed to plead guilty to two state charges of soliciting prostitution and spend only 13 months in the Palm Beach County jail.
He was also afforded a work-release program that allowed him to leave the jail for 12 hours a day six days a week and work unsupervised at his downtown West Palm Beach office.
A federal judge ruled on Feb. 21 that prosecutors at the Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida broke the law when arranging the plea deal, because they failed to notify Epstein’s alleged victims during plea negotiations, in violation of the Crime Victims’ Rights Act.
“While the government spent untold hours negotiating the terms and implications of the non-prosecution agreement with Epstein’s attorneys, scant information was shared with victims. Instead, the victims were told to be ‘patient’ while the investigation proceeded,” the ruling stated.
The plea deal has also gained the recent attention of high-ranking government officials.
On Feb. 6, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) issued a statement after the Department of Justice announced an internal investigation of the 2007 plea.
“Jeffrey Epstein is a child rapist and there’s not a single mom or dad in America who shouldn’t be horrified by the fact that he received a pathetically soft sentence,” said Sasse.
“The victims of Epstein’s child sex-trafficking ring deserve this investigation—and so do the American people and the members of law enforcement who work to put these kinds of monsters behind bars,” he said.