Mystery parties try to restrict release of documents in Jeffrey Epstein sex trafficking suit
|Toronto Star 20 Mar 2019 at 16:45|
MIAMIâTwo mysterious parties, labelling themselves Jane Doe and John Doe, have filed separate legal briefs in an attempt to limit the public release of personal information that could connect them to an underage sex trafficking operation allegedly run by New York financier Jeffrey Epstein and his partner, Ghislaine Maxwell.
Jane Doe, represented by Kerrie Campbell, a Washington-based gender equality lawyer, appears to be a victim who wants to remain unidentified, but indicated she is amicable to the release of some information â as long as it doesnât identify her, court documents filed this week show.
Jeffrey Epstein, who was not party to the lawsuit, has denied he ever ran a sex trafficking operation.Â Â (Uma Sanghvi / Associated Press)
The other party, John Doe, submitted a brief in support of Maxwell, who continues to mount a last-ditch legal campaign to keep court records that allegedly contain details of their sex exploits involving young girls â and other third party people who may be involved â under seal.
Itâs not clear whether the latest challenges will delay release of the documents, said Sanford Bohrer, attorney for the Miami Herald, which filed an action to unseal the files last year as part of its investigation into Epstein called âPerversion of Justice.â
The court case currently at issue is a 2015 defamation lawsuit filed against Maxwell by Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who claims she was recruited by Maxwell at Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trumpâs resort in Palm Beach, when she was 16 years old. She says Maxwell brought her to Epsteinâs mansion and she was trafficked for sex to a number of prominent and powerful men.
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John Doe, in his amicus brief, claims that he was not party to the Maxwell lawsuit, and has never been publicly identified or accused by Giuffre of being a co-conspirator of Epstein or âa person with whom she had sexual relations,â according to the brief, filed Tuesday by lawyers Nicholas J. Lewin, Paul M. Krieger and Nicholas F. Bolz in New York.
âSo if he didnât do anything, then why doesnât he want to be identified?â Bohrer said.
âWe know that âJohnâ isnât a victim â so his best scenario is he believes he is wrongly accused,â Bohrer said. âBut thatâs the purpose of this process â you donât get to seal it for that reason. We should have facts, compelling facts, that indicate a legally protectable interest that is so compelling that it justifies denying public access.â
Maxwellâs attorneys Tuesday filed a motion in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York to prevent enforcement of an earlier decision by the court to release a large portion of the files. Based on the filings, the case is believed to contain a range of evidence, including testimony from other possible underage victims who say they were trafficked.
All parties to the case, including the Miami Herald, have agreed to redact the names of minors, Social Security numbers and other details that would identify victims.
âLarge parts of that court record â not just Ms. Giuffreâs allegations â are in the public interest, especially today,â Bohrer told the court in his oral arguments March 6. âMr. Epstein â for good or bad â is a focus of some things that are really important ... and we feel this is something the public really needs to know about.
âMore generally, the whole point of having records open ... is for the public to see how the judges are doing and how the criminal justice system works.â
Giuffre, who settled the suit against Maxwell in 2017, also wants the files made public, arguing in a counter filing that Maxwell has failed to meet the courtâs threshold of providing âcompelling reasonsâ to keep the documents under seal.
âMs. Maxwell is dodging a key point: The summary judgment findings focused on whether Ms. Maxwell was an essential co-conspirator in Epsteinâs international sex trafficking organization,â Giuffreâs lawyers wrote. âIt may be âembarrassingâ for Ms. Maxwell to have the world know the scope of her involvement in trafficking underage girls internationally for sexual purposes. But her involvement in a criminal enterprise does not remotely approach any legitimate ground for sealing.â
The three-judge appeals court ruled in the Heraldâs favour March 11. Thirty-two other media companies, including the New York Times and the Washington Post, supported the Heraldâs effort.
âOur precedent clearly establishes that âdocuments submitted to a court for its consideration in a summary judgment motion are â as a matter of law â judicial documents to which a strong presumption of access attaches, under both the common law and the First Amendment,â â the judges wrote, citing case law.
But the panel nevertheless gave the parties until March 19 to establish good cause as to why documents in the civil suit should remain sealed. In the wake of recently filed briefs, the deadline had been delayed.
The Heraldâs lawyer has outlined a process for the release of the documents whereby representatives for all the parties will participate in a document-by-document review to determine what should remain redacted or sealed. The court appeared to be agreeable to that procedure.
Giuffre, who now lives in Australia, asserted that she was directed to have sex with public figures â including Prince Andrew and lawyer Alan Dershowitz â both of whom have denied her allegations and alleged that because she has made them only in court documents, which protect her from being sued, she is using that privilege to make false claims. Giuffre, in an interview last year, told the Herald that Epstein had cameras around many of his properties and homes and may have used her to have leverage over influential people.
Dershowitz filed his own appeal to unseal documents in the Maxwell case. He believes the case history contains documents that will exonerate him. Also party to the appeal is social media blogger Michael Cernovich.
Ultimately, Maxwell settled the case in 2017 before trial. Maxwell, the daughter of the late publishing tycoon Robert Maxwell, has denied all allegations against her, claiming that the lawsuit was filed to gain publicity and notoriety and to profit from the allegations.
Epstein, who was not party to the lawsuit, has denied he ever ran a sex trafficking operation. In 2005, he came under investigation by Palm Beach police and was accused of molesting three dozen underage girls by luring them to his mansion under the guise of paying them for massages.
Eventually, under a secret plea deal negotiated by then-Miami U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta, Epstein pleaded guilty to two prostitution charges in state court and served 13 months in the county jail, where he enjoyed liberal work release privileges despite that being prohibited for sex offenders.
In November, the Herald published a series of articles that deconstructed how Epstein and his lawyers manipulated the criminal justice system, working secretly with federal prosecutors to conceal and minimize his crimes. The handling of the case is now under investigation by the Department of Justice.
On March 4, some of Epsteinâs lawyers wrote an op-ed letter to the New York Times denying that Epstein ran a sex trafficking ring and contending that the number of women involved in his criminal case was âvastly exaggerated.â
Acosta, who is now President Donald Trumpâs labour secretary, has come under pressure by some in Congress to resign his post, but the president on Tuesday expressed his support.