A federal appeals court issued a show-cause order questioning a sealed summary judgment and other hidden court papers in a defamation case flowing from human trafficking claims against former Palm Beach billionaire Jeffrey Epstein.
A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ordered parties to explain why the court shouldn’t follow its own precedent and unseal the order and related documents in the lawsuit accusing a former Epstein associate of procuring underage girls for sex.
The case before U.S. Judge Robert Steele of the Southern District of New York has generated a host of appeals to the Second Circuit, including by plaintiff Virginia Giuffre.
She accused Epstein of sexually abusing her for years beginning when she was 15. Giuffre sued Ghislaine Maxwell in 2015, accusing her of libel. Maxwell had been previously connected to Epstein romantically, and Giuffre alleges she was defamed by Maxwell’s public statements disputing her sexual trafficking claims.
A significant portion of the record in the underlying suit has been sealed. Among those interceding in the suit, as well as the appeal, for disclosure have been the Miami Herald, represented by Holland & Knight partner Sanford Bohrer; Alan Dershowitz, the former Harvard Law professor and former counsel to Epstein; and conservative activist Michael Cernovich.
In March 2016, Steele issued a blanket protective order in the case. According to the parties opposed to the order, it sealed dozens of motions and briefs, nearly the entire record on summary judgment and even several of the court’s own opinions.
The appellate panel composed of Circuit Judges José Cabranes, Rosemary Pooler and Christopher Droney heard arguments last Wednesday while handling the consolidated appeals from the district court.
It one-page order noted the circuit’s precedent “clearly establishes” a strong presumption of access to documents submitted to a court for consideration in a summary judgment motion. Replies are due May 19.
Haddon, Morgan and Foreman member Ty Gee represents Maxwell on appeal. Giuffre is represented by University of Utah law professor Paul Cassell. Neither responded to a request for comment by deadline.
Epstein’s accusers claim he landed a sweetheart deal with the Miami U.S. attorney’s office led by Alex Acosta, now the U.S. labor secretary, to secretly settle their allegations with a light state sentence.
U.S. District Judge Kenneth A. Marra in West Palm Beach concluded federal prosecutors violated the rights of the accusers under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act when they reached a clandestine nonprosecution agreement with Epstein in 2008 shielding him from charges that he ran a child sex ring from 1999 to 2007.