Federal Judge Denies Relief for Epstein Victims in Florida Legal Battle

Jeffrey Epstein, in a photograph for the New York State Sex Offender Registry taken on March 28, 2017.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CN) – Two women who say they were victims of Jeffrey Epstein’s underage sex ring lost a decade-long battle in Florida federal court Monday when a judge shot down their demand to punish prosecutors for keeping them in the dark about the wealthy money manager’s favorable plea deal.  

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra denied nearly every request for relief filed by the two women, who say they were lured to Epstein’s Palm Beach mansion for sexual favors in their early teens. 

The women had sued the Department of Justice for allegedly concealing the details of Epstein’s plea deal from them during negotiations with his high-priced lawyer Jay Lefkowitz in 2007. 

Under that deal, Epstein avoided federal prosecution and pleaded guilty to a state charge of soliciting underage prostitution. 

The investment tycoon, accused of engaging in sexual activity with more than 30 underage girls, served little more than a year in prison. He was granted a work-release during his prison term, allowing him to leave his cell for most of the day to spend time in a West Palm Beach office. 

The Florida lawsuit argued that prosecutors’ disregard for victims during plea-deal negotiations violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act. The plaintiffs asked for a slew of remedies: compensation from the government, sealed documents from the criminal case and a court order that would largely void the purported sweetheart deal.

In February, Marra wrote that prosecutors violated the Act and that the government “spent untold hours negotiating the terms and implications of the [non-prosecution agreement] with Epstein’s attorneys,” while “scant information was shared with victims.”

But in his opinion handed down Monday, the judge noted that the Act specifically bars actions for monetary damages against the government even when prosecutors trample on victims’ rights. 

The Crime Victims’ Rights Act reads: “Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to authorize a cause of action for damages.”

As for the plaintiffs’ request to toss out the plea deal, Marra found that Epstein’s death in August rendered the matter moot. 

Epstein died by an apparent suicide, hanging himself in New York City’s Metropolitan Correctional Center where he was held after he had been arrested on new sex trafficking charges. New York federal prosecutors brought those charges in July on the heels of national media coverage focused on now-resigned Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta’s role in the controversial Florida plea deal during his stint as a prosecutor with the Southern District of Florida. 

In the aftermath of Epstein’s death, the two Florida plaintiffs argued that the plea deal should still be torn up, as it contained provisions that shielded Epstein’s alleged co-conspirators from prosecution. 

Marra had some sympathetic words, but declined to honor the victims’ request.

“The question of the validity of the non-prosecution provisions … as they relate to the alleged co-conspirators will have to be litigated with their participation if any prosecution against them is ever brought. Any decision by this Court on that question is meaningless without their participation in this proceeding,” the judge wrote in his Monday order

Marra appeared unswayed by the victims’ argument that the alleged co-conspirators – assistants who allegedly helped Epstein bring teenagers to his mansion – had 10 years in which they could have intervened in the lawsuit but never stepped in to attempt to protect their rights under the non-prosecution agreement.

“Despite Petitioners having demonstrated the Government violated their rights under the CVRA, in the end they are not receiving much, if any, of the relief they sought,” Marra conceded. 

“They may take solace, however, in the fact that this litigation has brought national attention to the Crime Victims’ Rights Act and the importance of victims in the criminal justice system,” he added. “And rulings which were rendered during the course of this litigation likely played some role, however small it may have been, in the initiation of criminal charges against Mr. Epstein in the Southern District of New York and that office’s continuing investigation of others who may have been complicit with him.”

The plaintiffs’ attorneys insisted the decade-long litigation was not in vain. 

“Of course, this is not the ending we had hoped for, but the enormous progression of victims’ rights through this case will ensure that violations like this never happen again in this country,” lawyer Bradley Edwards said in a statement. “For that, the fight was worth it.”

As part of the litigation, the Department of Justice pledged to retrain its staff in the Southern District of Florida on victims’ rights. It also offered to hold a meeting where victims can publicly air their statements about Epstein and grievances about the Department’s mistreatment of them. 

Marra maintained that he does not have jurisdiction to force Acosta to attend.

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