A federal court of appeals in New York on Monday took the first step in unsealing documents that could reveal evidence of an international sex trafficking operation allegedly run by multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein and his former partner, British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell.
The three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit gave the parties until March 19 to establish good cause as to why they should remain sealed and, failing to do so, the summary judgment and supporting documents will be made public. The court reserved a ruling on the balance of the documents in the civil case, including discovery materials.
“We’re grateful that the court ruled the summary judgment papers are open and they are moving to expedite having them unsealed,’’ said Sanford Bohrer, the attorney representing the Miami Herald, which filed the motion last year to have the entire case file opened. The Herald’s appeal is supported by 32 other media companies, including the New York Times and Washington Post.
The case, which was settled in 2017, contains more than 1,000 documents, lawyers said during oral arguments in New York on Wednesday. Maxwell is the sole party fighting to keep the case sealed.
Most of the documents, including court orders and motions, were filed under seal or heavily redacted, similar to other cases in New York and Florida involving Epstein, a wealthy, politically connected money manager. Epstein, 66, was not a party to the lawsuit, which was filed against Maxwell in 2015 by Virginia Roberts Giuffre.
Giuffre claimed in the lawsuit that she was recruited by Maxwell at Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump’s resort in Palm Beach, when she was 16 years old. Giuffre had been working at the resort’s spa when Maxwell approached her and asked her whether she wanted to become a masseuse for Epstein. Giuffre claimed that the massages were a ruse for Epstein and Maxwell to sexually abuse her and other underage girls, some of whom were trafficked to other influential people, from 1999 to 2002.
Maxwell settled the case before trial, resulting in several millions paid to Giuffre, sources have told the Herald. Maxwell, now an environmentalist, has denied all the allegations. Epstein’s attorney, Martin G. Weinberg, has not responded to emails and calls made by the Herald seeking comment.
But in an op-ed letter to The New York Times last week, Weinberg and three of Epstein’s other lawyers — including Kenneth Starr, known for his pursuit of President Bill Clinton over his sexual conduct — denied that Epstein ever ran a sex trafficking operation.
“The number of young women involved in the investigation has been vastly exaggerated, there was no ‘international sex-trafficking operation’ and there was never evidence that Mr. Epstein ‘hosted sex parties’ at his home,” the lawyers wrote.
Attorneys for Harvard lawyer Alan Dershowitz and conservative social media blogger Michael Cernovich, two other parties to the appeal, also argued to unseal the entire case file. Dershowitz’s lawyer, Andrew G. Celli Jr., wanted the court to release three documents immediately, saying they were necessary to clear the name of his client, who has been accused of being involved in Epstein’s crimes.
Dershowitz was among a team of lawyers who represented Epstein when he came under criminal investigation in Palm Beach in 2005. Epstein was accused by more than three dozen girls, most of them 13 to 16, of luring them to his mansion to give him massages that turned into sex acts. He then used those same girls to recruit more girls over a period of several years, court and police records show.
Giuffre said she was directed by Epstein to have sex with Dershowitz when she was underage. Dershowitz, a professor emeritus at Harvard University and constitutional law scholar, claims the case file contains documents that will prove that she is lying.
Giuffre’s lawyer, Paul Cassell, however, told the appeals court that the case file will establish that she is telling the truth.
In 2008, Epstein received a controversial plea deal that gave him and an untold number of others who were not named immunity from federal prosecution. The non-prosecution agreement, brokered by former Miami U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta, is now the focus of a Justice Department investigation.
Acosta, now President Trump’s labor secretary, has said that the deal was approved at the highest levels of the agency.
A federal judge ruled on Feb. 22 that the deal was illegal because Acosta kept it from Epstein’s victims in violation of the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, a federal law that grants victims certain rights, including the right to be told about a plea deal and to appear at sentencing.
A Miami Herald investigation, “Perversion of Justice,’’ showed that Acosta and other prosecutors deliberately kept Epstein’s victims in the dark so that they could not appear at his sentencing and possibly derail the deal. The sentencing judge was also misled about the scope of Epstein’s crimes and how many girls he abused, records indicate.
The U.S. attorney in Atlanta has been assigned to review the non-prosecution agreement in the wake of the Feb. 22 ruling. Epstein’s victim’s want the deal thrown out — which would set a precedent.
As part of the deal, Epstein pleaded guilty to two prostitution charges in state court.
Epstein’s lawyers indicated that they intend to fight any effort to void his immunity agreement.
“Mr. Epstein has gone to prison and made enormous monetary settlements relying on his negotiated agreement. He is entitled to finality like every other defendant,’’ the lawyers said.
Epstein did not go to prison, but served 13 months in a private section of the Palm Beach County jail, where he was allowed to leave for 12 hours a day to go to his office in West Palm Beach under a work release program that is normally not granted to convicted sex offenders.