Oral arguments about whether to unseal documents from a past court case involving accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein will begin March 6 at the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York City.
The case, Giuffre v. Maxwell, was a defamation lawsuit brought by one of Epstein’s alleged victims, Virginia Roberts Giuffre. The suit was settled in May 2017, but unsealing related court records could introduce volumes of new information regarding Epstein’s alleged activities, and those of his powerful alleged co-participants.
Epstein, a wealthy financier, has been accused of molesting dozens of underage girls at his Palm Beach, Florida, mansion and his 72-acre private island estate in the Caribbean. The Department of Justice is currently investigating a 2007 plea deal that allowed him to only serve 13 months in a private area of a Palm Beach County jail, and work unsupervised at his downtown West Palm Beach office 12 hours a day, six days a week, during that period.
In 2015, Giuffre sued Epstein’s partner, Ghislaine Maxwell, after Maxwell publicly challenged her claims of abuse.
According to an August 2017 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-year dispute involved what Judge Robert Sweet of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York called “a lengthy and tumultuous discovery process” with “extreme sensitivities and privacy interests.” As a result, he placed a protective order on discovery documents and other items spanning 18 hearings and 15 related decisions.
Famed Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz, who co-represented Epstein during the controversial 2007 plea agreement, unsuccessfully attempted to have three case documents unsealed in August 2016. Prominent blogger, journalist, author, and filmmaker Mike Cernovich filed a motion to unseal case materials in Jan. 2017, but was denied.
Giuffre and Maxwell settled four months later, and on April 9, 2018, The Miami Herald filed a motion to unseal all case documents on First Amendment grounds. The Herald’s court filing was then joined by Dershowitz, who requested to be advised of any unsealed records, so he could seek additional documents to be unsealed if needed.
Giuffre and another women, Sarah Ransomme, have accused Dershowitz of abusing them in association with Epstein and Maxwell, which he vehemently denies.
The Herald lost its initial attempt to unseal the documents, but has since garnered the support of 32 media organizations for its appeal on March 6, including The New York Times, Washington Post, Fox News, and the Associated Press.
The district court ruled that discovery records and other sought items weren’t covered by First Amendment presumptions of access. But according to a media coalition’s 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.
Dershowitz asked the appeals court last week if the media should be prohibited from hearing his attorney’s arguments about the case, since it could reveal sealed information.
The letter prompted an article from Julie K. Brown, an award-winning investigative journalist for The Miami Herald, whose groundbreaking three-part series “Perversions of Justice” spurred national interest in the Epstein affair more than a decade after his guilty plea.
Dershowitz took exception, and defended himself through a series of tweets.
“Let me be crystal clear, I want the hearing to be open to the press. But I also want my lawyer to be able to tell the court what’s in the sealed emails that prove I was framed for $. Its the other side that’s sealed the material. Let them unseal it so the world can see the truth,” he wrote on March 2.
He also accused Brown of deliberately distorting the truth, to which she responded, “Why not ask for everything to be unsealed then? And why are your motions so redacted?”
“We want everything unsealed,” Dershowitz tweeted back. “Why didn’t you try to reach me before publishing your error-filled screed?”
Dershowitz also said Democratic super-lawyer David Boies was representing both of his sexual abuse accusers and that Boies admitted in private that Dershowitz was falsely accused.
“David Boies, the lawyer for both of my false accusers, has admitted in private that his client has falsely accused me: ”Your belief”— referring to his client— “is wrong”. “Your conclusion is simply wrong”. I challenge Boies to deny this admission under oath,” he wrote on Twitter, adding that “They made up their false stories about me only after being ‘pressured’ by their lawyers.”
On March 3, Brown weighed in again: “To be clear: Mr. Dershowitz’s motion pertains to select documents in the Epstein-related case that pertain to him. The Miami Herald’s motion is to unseal EVERYTHING w the exception of social sec nos, medical info & other personal info.”
A separate court case unfolded Feb. 21, when a federal judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida ruled that prosecutors broke the law when devising Epstein’s controversial plea deal.
Two of Epstein’s alleged underage victims, known as Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2, filed a lawsuit after the 2008 surprise sentencing, on the grounds that they were never given an opportunity to express their opposition to the lenient plea. Judge Kenneth Marra ruled in their favor, albeit 11 years later.
Should documents ultimately be unsealed in the defamation case and reveal details about prominent individuals who have thus far gone unnamed, the implications could be staggering.
According to Marra’s 33-page opinion, Epstein and his co-conspirators “knowingly traveled in interstate and international commerce” to commit sexual abuse and other “violations of not only Florida law, but also federal law.”
“In addition to his own sexual abuse of the victims, Epstein directed other persons to abuse the girls sexually,” and he “worked in concert with others to obtain minors not only for his own sexual gratification but also for the sexual gratification of others.”