Prince Andrew’s bid to dismiss sex abuse case challenged by sceptical judge
New York: A US judge on Tuesday appeared sceptical of a bid by Britain’s Prince Andrew to dismiss Virginia Giuffre’s lawsuit accusing him of sexually abusing her when she was 17 and being trafficked by the late financier Jeffrey Epstein.
US District Judge Lewis Kaplan in Manhattan is assessing a 2009 settlement agreement in Florida between Epstein and Giuffre that the 61-year-old prince’s lawyers have said shields Andrew, The Duke of York, from claims by the 38-year-old Giuffre.
Prince Andrew’s lawyers argue that Virginia Giuffre is merely seeking another “payday”. Credit:Getty Images
The agreement included a general release that would “forever discharge” various people who “could have been included as a potential defendant” in a civil lawsuit Giuffre filed against Epstein that she settled for $US500,000.
Settlements of US civil lawsuits can restrict plaintiffs from pursuing further litigation, even against third parties.
Andrew has denied Giuffre’s accusations that he forced her to have sex more than two decades ago at the London home of former Epstein associate and girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell, or abused her at two other Epstein properties.
At a court hearing, the prince’s Los Angeles-based lawyer Andrew Brettler said Queen Elizabeth’s second son was shielded from Giuffre’s claims when she settled with Epstein, who did not admit liability.
“‘Potential defendant’ is someone who could have been named a defendant in that lawsuit, but was not,” Brettler said. “I think it’s unquestionable that Prince Andrew could have been sued in the 2009 Florida action.”
But the judge said the key issue was what Giuffre and Epstein intended, noting that “we don’t have Mr Epstein here” to explain how broad a release he wanted.
“We’re talking about whether there are two or more reasonable interpretations,” Kaplan told Brettler. “I understand your point of view. I understand the other point of view.”
The judge was even blunter when Andrew’s lawyer tried to argue that Giuffre’s claims were insufficiently clear.
“That is not a dog that’s going to hunt here,” Kaplan said.
Giuffre claims Andrew was one of several powerful men to whom Epstein “lent” her for sexual abuse as a teenager. Andrew has denied her allegations. The judge read a section from the lawsuit that described an alleged encounter in London during which Epstein, Maxwell and Andrew forced an underage Giuffre to have sexual intercourse.
“It was sexual intercourse. Involuntary sexual intercourse,” said Kaplan. “There’s no doubt about what that means, at least since somebody else was in the White House,” an apparent reference to Bill Clinton, who appointed him to the federal bench.
Giuffre’s lawyer David Boies said the settlement did not excuse Andrew because Giuffre did not claim that the prince was “people who were doing the trafficking” but rather was “someone to whom girls were trafficked”.
Kaplan said he would rule on Andrew’s dismissal motion “pretty soon”. The judge has said a trial could begin between September and December if no settlement is reached.
“I appreciate the arguments and the passions, I will have a decision pretty soon but I won’t define that further,” he said at the end of the hour-long telephone hearing. “Stay healthy, everyone.”
Epstein killed himself at age 66 in a Manhattan jail cell in August 2019 while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.
Maxwell, 60, was convicted on December 29 of recruiting and grooming girls for Epstein to abuse between 1994 and 2004. Giuffre’s accusations were not part of that case, and she did not testify.
While the prince is not accused of criminal wrongdoing, his ties to Epstein have cost him many royal duties and damaged his reputation. His troubles grew after critics said he failed in a 2019 BBC interview to appear sympathetic toward Epstein’s abuse victims.
Giuffre sued Andrew for unspecified damages less than a week before the expiration of a New York law giving accusers a two-year window to bring claims over alleged child abuse occurring long ago.
Andrew has said Giuffre is seeking another “payday” in her campaign against Epstein and former associates such as Maxwell, from whom she sought $US50 million in a since-settled 2015 defamation lawsuit.
During the hearing, Brettler said it was “inherently unfair and unjust” for Giuffre to wait so long to sue, and subject the prince to the “huge burden” of finding witnesses and materials to defend against her decades-old claims.
Kaplan rejected Brettler’s claim that dismissal of the lawsuit was warranted because Giuffre had not provided enough specifics about the prince’s alleged abuses.
“She has no obligation to do that in a complaint,” Kaplan told Brettler. “I’m telling you that, straight out, right now. It’s not going to happen.”
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