A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has ordered parties to provide good cause why the court shouldn’t follow its own precedent and unseal a lower court’s summary judgment order and related documents in a lawsuit accusing an associate of the billionaire Jeffrey Epstein of human trafficking.
The case before U.S. Judge Robert Sweet of the Southern District of New York has generated a host of appeals to the Second Circuit, including by the plaintiff, Virginia Giuffre.
Giuffre has publicly accused Epstein of sexually abusing her for years, beginning at the age of 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 placed under seal. Among those interceding in the suit, as well as the appeal, for disclosure have been Alan Dershowitz, the prominent attorney and former counsel to Epstein; conservative activist Michael Cernovich; and the Miami Herald newspaper.
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—which is now handling the consolidated appeals from the district court, in its one-page order, noted the circuit’s precedent “clearly establishes” a strong presumption of access to judicial documents submitted to a court for consideration in a summary judgment motion.
The panel did split on one aspect of the order. Pooler dissented from her colleagues, saying she would not order in the order to show cause material that is attached to the summary judgment.
The parties are scheduled to reply May 19.
Haddon, Morgan and Foreman member Ty Gee represents Maxwell on appeal. Giuffre is represented by S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah professor Paul Cassell. Neither responded to a request for comment.