Alan M. Dershowitz argues at the Appellate Division (Rick Kopstein)
Good news for Alan Dershowitz in a case involving him and some of the nation’s most prominent attorneys: A state appellate court Wednesday found a woman seeking sanctions against him lacked standing.
Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who accused Dershowitz of having sex with her while she was a minor, sought sanctions based on statements in Dershowitz’s affidavit in high-profile litigation against two other prominent attorneys, both of whom had represented Giuffre: former federal judge Paul Cassell and Farmer Jaffe Weissing Edwards Fistos & Lehrman partner Bradley Edwards.
Dershowitz is professor emeritus at Harvard Law School and a noted criminal defense attorney on the national stage. He represented hotelier Leona Helmsley, former National Football League running back O.J. Simpson, televangelist Jim Bakker, boxing champ Mike Tyson and heiress Patty Hearst.
But his reputation came under attack when Giuffre claimed he had sex with her while she was a minor and a victim in a sex ring by Dershowitz’s client, Palm Beach billionaire Jeffrey Epstein. But Dershowitz testified the allegations were part of an attempt to extort about $1 billion from another wealthy man ensnared in the scandal, retail magnate Les Wexner, whose portfolio includes Victoria’s Secret, Bath & Body Works, Pink and La Senza.
That case ballooned into a personal fight among the lawyers, who traded defamation lawsuits pitting Cassell and Edwards against Dershowitz. It put the spotlight on the concept of qualified legal privilege, which typically grants lawyers immunity from defamation suits over their court filings or arguments.
“The notion of litigation privilege, which always seems to be invoked, is not as broad as people would like to see when you’re using litigation to smear someone,” Dershowitz’s lawyer Bruce Rogow said.
Dershowitz’s affidavit in that litigation against Cassell and Edwards is sealed, but similar comments appeared in The New York Times. In that publication, Dershowitz mentioned another high-profile litigator, David Boies, who famously represented former U.S. Vice President Al Gore in litigation following the 2000 presidential election.
Boies was Giuffre’s attorney, but Dershowitz claimed Boies “privately assured” him that Boies didn’t believe Giuffre.
Giuffre was not a party to the defamation suits among the lawyers, but she stepped into the litigation. She filed an emergency motion to seal the affidavit, and moved for attorneys’ fees, costs and an admonition from the court against Dershowitz.
But the lawyers settled their dispute before her action came before Broward Circuit Judge Thomas Lynch, who then ruled that the parties’ stipulation of dismissal meant the court now lacked jurisdiction. Lynch also found Giuffre lacked standing to seek sanctions as a nonparty to the litigation.
The Fourth District Court of Appeal disagreed and found that the trial court had continuing jurisdiction. But it upheld Lynch’s decision on the sanctions motion against Dershowitz.
“Giuffre did not have standing in the proceedings below, despite her feasible stake in the outcome of the proceedings,” Fourth DCA Chief Judge Cory Ciklin wrote in a unanimous decision with Judges Carole Taylor and Melanie May.
Giuffre’s counsel is Sigrid McCawley of Boies Schiller Flexner in Fort Lauderdale.
“We are pleased that the Fourth DCA agreed with Ms. Giuffre’s argument that the court had jurisdiction to hear the matter, and appreciate the court’s acknowledgement that Dershowitz’s conduct was harmful and damaging to Giuffre’s reputation,” McCawley said in a statement. “However we disagree with the court’s holding that there is no remedy for that harm.”
Meanwhile, Dershowitz’s legal team hopes the latest ruling ends years of legal wrangling.
“All’s well that ends well,” Rogow said. “Hopefully it means that this contretemps is all over, and we will hear nothing more of it.”