Can Prince Andrew strike out a case against him by a woman who accuses him of abusing her when she was a minor?
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Hello, I’m Claudia, and this is the Sensemaker.
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Today, in 2009 Jeffrey Epstein paid half a million dollars to settle a lawsuit against him. It included an important clause. It wasn’t meant just to settle the lawsuit against Jeffrey Epstein. It was meant to prevent lawsuits against other people in his circle.
For over a decade that settlement was sealed, its existence was unknown to most people. But that’s all changed. It’s now at the heart of a legal tussle that could be make or break for Prince Andrew.
This jury has found Ghislaine Maxwell guilty of one of the worst crimes imaginable: facilitating and participating in the sexual abuse of children. Crimes that she committed with her longtime partner and co-conspirator Jeffrey Epstein.US Attorney Damian Williams quoted in The Guardian
Last week a jury came to a verdict on one of the most notorious cases of sexual abuse.
Ghislaine Maxwell, the British Heiress, who was accused of grooming young girls for the paedophile financier, Jeffrey Epstein was found guilty in New York of five charges, including the sex trafficking of a minor.
She faces a long stretch in jail. How long we won’t know until she’s sentenced. But in the meantime, all eyes have turned to another figure who’s been embroiled in this scandal:
Prince Andrew, the Duke of York. For years, his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell has been the subject of intense scrutiny.
Emily Maitlis: All of this goes back to your friendship with Jeffrey Epstein. How did you first become friends?
Prince Andrew: Well I met through his girlfriend back in 1999. And I’d known her since she was at university in the UK and it would be to some extent a stretch to say that we were close friends.Newsnight
In 2011 a photo was published by the Mail on Sunday.
In it you can see a 41-year-old Prince Andrew grinning at the camera with his arm around the waist of 17-year-old Virginia Giuffre. She has since become known as one of the most prominent victims of Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell.
And Virginia Giuffre is at the centre of a separate legal case – a civil lawsuit against Prince Andrew. The easiest way to think of a civil case is that it’s brought by one person against another. It’s not like a criminal case – like Ghislaine Maxwell’s – where the state brings the charges.
In her civil case, Virginia Giuffre has made allegations of sexual assault and battery against Prince Andrew when she was a minor. Prince Andrew denies all of the allegations.
And his lawyers have been in court this week arguing that Virginia Giuffre’s case shouldn’t even be heard – because of a 167 word paragraph in a 12 year old legal settlement.
The judge in that case said he’ll make a ruling “pretty soon”. So what did we learn from what we heard in court?
Let’s go back to the beginning of all this. In 2009 Jeffrey Epstein was sued by Virginia Giuffre. She alleged that Epstein had been sexually abusing her since she was 15 and trafficked her around his peer group.
In the end Epstein agreed to pay Virginia Giuffre half a million dollars to stop the case ever going to trial. And for over a decade, that settlement remained confidential. That was, until this week.
A secret settlement between Prince Andrew’s accuser Virginia Giuffre and the convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein has been made public.Sky News
This is the civil case I mentioned – the one that Virginia Giuffre has taken against Prince Andrew. And that settlement is the central plank in Prince Andrews’ attempt to get it dismissed.
The court hearing began with Prince Andrew’s attorney setting out exactly why he thinks this settlement is their smoking gun.
In the settlement Virginia agreed to release, acquit, satisfy and forever discharge Epstein from further claims the wording goes on to cover any other person who could have been a potential defendant.BBC
The argument set out by Prince Andrew’s attorney is fairly simple: the words “potential defendant” mean that anyone who could have been named a defendant in that lawsuit, but wasn’t, can’t be sued by Virginia Giuffre in the future.
The judge in the case is Lewis Kaplan. And he pushed back on that argument. He said that nobody could know what Jeffrey Epstein or Virginia Giuffre meant by the words “potential defendant”.
And he pointed out that “we don’t have Mr. Epstein here” to explain how broadly he meant the word to be used. (They couldn’t have Jeffrey Epstein there, of course, because he took his own life in prison in 2019.)
Some breaking news right now, disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein has taken his own life while he was behind bars here in New York City. Epstein was facing trafficking charges.Today
The defence kept pushing ahead with their line of argument. They said it was – quote – “unquestionable that Prince Andrew could have been sued in the 2009 Florida action.” In other words, he was a potential defendant – so he was part of that group of people Virginia Guiffre had promised not to go after.
We won’t know for sure whether Judge Kaplan bought Prince Andrew’s argument until he releases his decision on whether or not that 2009 settlement means Virginia Giuffre can’t pursue the Prince in court.
But people who were at the hearing thought the judge seemed sceptical. He seemed to indicate that, ultimately, the wording of the settlement could reasonably be interpreted in a more specific way – a way which would mean that Prince Andrew is not covered by it.
In other words, a way which would allow Virginia Guiffre to keep pursuing her civil action against Prince Andrew. At times Prince Andrew’s team seemed to want to have their cake and eat it. (That’s not a very legal term, I know).
Essentially, they wanted to make the phrase “potential defendants” as broad and vague as possible, so it would cover Prince Andrew. But then they argued that Virginia Guiffre’s claims of abuse were too vague.
They said she had to “explain what this alleged abuse was”. The judge quickly shot that down. “That’s not a dog that’s gonna hunt here,” he said. “She has no obligation to do that in the complaint… it’s just not the law.”
At this point, things weren’t looking great for Prince Andrew.
Once Prince Andrew’s attorney finished his opening remarks Virginia Guiffre’s lawyer took the floor. The arguments were still over the same question. Basically, was the Prince one of the “potential defendants” who Virginia Guiffre promised not to pursue in that 2009 settlement?
Now, bear with me here. Virginia Giuffre’s team said that to be a potential defendant Prince Andrew would have to be somebody likely to be involved in the kind of activity related to the settlement.
But Virginia Guiffre isn’t claiming that Prince Andrew trafficked her, the way Epstein did. She’s saying that Prince Andrew was “someone to whom girls were trafficked.” So that’s a different crime.
Near the end of the hearing the judge remarked that the 2009 settlement was an agreement between Jeffrey Epstein and Virginia Guiffre, and so they were the “only people who could enforce it.”
Given that one of those people is dead and the other one doesn’t want to enforce the settlement, there’s a strong possibility that the judge will throw out Prince Andrew’s central argument to dismiss this case.
This is the sort of case where Virginia herself and her lawyers might say to Prince Andrew, we don’t care how much you pay we’re not settling we want the truth to be told we want to have a trial.Sky News
Throughout the hearing the Judge appeared skeptical and dismissive of large parts of Prince Andrew’s legal defence. He seemed unconvinced by the argument that the legal settlement covered Prince Andrew from future lawsuits.
So, what does this all mean in practice?
We won’t know if Prince Andrew’s legal defence was enough to have Virginia Guiffre’s case dismissed until Judge Kaplan makes a decision. But for now, it doesn’t look as if the Prince had a good day in court.
Today’s story was written by Nimo Omer and produced by Katie Gunning.