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Will the Court Throw Out Virginia Giuffre’s Sexual Assault Case Against Prince Andrew?

A New York federal judge expressed skepticism during a heated hearing in court on Tuesday, as a lawyer for Prince Andrew argued for the dismissal of a lawsuit brought by public Jeffrey Epstein accuser Virginia Giuffre, who claims the British royal sexually assaulted her when she was 17. Andrew’s motion for dismissal relates to a 2009 settlement made in Florida between Epstein and Giuffre, the terms of which his attorneys claim shield him from legal action by Giuffre.

The settlement was released to the public on Jan. 3. It revealed Epstein — who died by suicide in jail awaiting trial for sex-trafficking charges in 2019 — had paid Giuffre $500,000 to dismiss her claim that Epstein had sexually abused her when she was a teenager and had directed her to have sex with his powerful friends, “including royalty, politicians, academicians, businessmen and or other professional and personal acquaintances,” according to the complaint. The agreement acknowledged no wrongdoing on Epstein’s part and bound Giuffre to confidentiality about the payment. 

In the wake of the sex-trafficking conviction of Epstein’s former girlfriend and employee Ghislaine Maxwell, many are looking to Giuffre’s case against Andrew, a longtime friend of Epstein’s, as a next step toward justice for victims of the sex-trafficking ring led by Epstein.

Giuffre’s lawsuit, filed in August 2021, alleges Andrew was among the men to whom Epstein trafficked Giuffre for sex and that she received “express or implied threats” from Epstein, Maxwell, and/or Andrew to perform sexual acts with the royal. “As a mother and a wife, my family comes first — and I know that this action will subject me to further attacks by Prince Andrew and his surrogates,” Giuffre said in a statement at the time. “But I knew if I did not pursue this action, I would be letting them and victims everywhere down.”

Andrew has publicly denied the allegations (which Giuffre had asserted in court filings before her 2021 lawsuit). In a 2019 BBC interview, he claimed to have “no recollection” of ever meeting Giuffre and suggested that a now-infamous photo of him with his arm around a young Giuffre with Maxwell in the background could have been faked. He also tried to discredit Giuffre’s claim that he’d sweated all over her at a London night club by claiming he’s medically incapable of sweating — something Giuffre’s legal team is now asking him to prove. The BBC interview was widely viewed as disastrous and preceded Andrew’s withdrawal from his royal duties and public life.

The main point at issue in court on Tuesday was broad language in the agreement releasing Epstein along with “his agent(s), attorney(s), predecessor(s), successor(s), heir(s), administrator(s), assign(s) and/or employee(s)” from further action by Giuffre, along with “any other person or entity who could have been included as a potential defendant.” 

Judge Lewis Kaplan of New York’s Southern District asked for a definition of “other potential defendants” from attorney Andrew Brettler, who represents Prince Andrew. “Someone who was not named as a defendant but could have been by virtue of the allegations Ms. Giuffre was aware of at the time,” Brettler said. “Clearly Ms. Giuffre intended to release a broad category of individual.” Kaplan asked whether this category would include, theoretically, the Sultan of Brunei. Brettler said it would, had there been allegations against him. 

Giuffre’s attorney, David Boies, argued his own interpretation of “other potential defendants,” saying Andrew did not meet the requirements because he was not subject to Florida’s jurisdiction, and he wasn’t accused of the same type of crime — sex-trafficking — as Epstein stood accused of in the 2009 lawsuit.

Brettler also argued that Giuffre should be required to make more specific allegations in the complaint, before the case proceeds through discovery. “Ms. Giuffre doesn’t articulate what supposedly happened to her at the hands of Prince Andrew,” Brettler said. “She doesn’t explain what this alleged abuse was.” 

Kaplan responded pointedly, “With all due respect, that’s not a dog that’s gonna hunt here. I’m sure you’re as familiar with the rules of pleading as I am, and she has no obligation to do that in the complaint.” 

Because Giuffre was 17 at the time, which is the age of consent in New York, Brettler argued she’d need to prove she was “forcibly compelled” to have sex while facing an “imminent threat” of death or harm. Boies responded that Andrew’s team had already acknowledged in their motion to dismiss the case that a sex act may be forced when a threat is implied or, in some instances, when a victim does not expressly agree to the interaction. “As Andrew’s counsel acknowledged, lack of consent is far broader than simply the threat of imminent death,” Boies said.

Kaplan seemed to side with Giuffre on the issue of who can benefit from the settlement agreement. Boies argued that the agreement is only enforceable by Epstein or Giuffre. Kaplan noted that it was intended to be confidential, which would make it difficult for a third party to use it to their benefit.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo twice extended the statute of limitations for victims of childhood sexual abuse to bring cases against their abusers. Brettler argued vaguely against the constitutionality of those extensions, and called it “unfair” that Giuffre had filed her lawsuit days before the Aug. 2021 deadline. 

Judge Kaplan thanked the lawyers for their arguments, saying he appreciated “the passion.” He promised a decision “pretty soon” but declined to specify when, and noted that the case should continue through discovery in the meantime.

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