Pandemic Won’t Slow Fight Over Sealed Jeffrey Epstein Docs

Virginia Roberts Giuffre gestures during an interview that the BBC Panorama program aired on Dec. 2, 2019. (BBC Panorama via AP)

MANHATTAN (CN) — The federal judge who holds the key to secret records concerning the late pedophile Jeffrey Epstein refused Tuesday afternoon to approve a monthlong delay in the case.

Attorneys for people named in the secret batch of files sought the reprieve to extend how long they have to raise objections about public scrutiny after first receiving notice about their involvement.

“At this point, 14 days is certainly adequate,” U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska told an attorney for one of those anonymous men during a phone conference, referring to the length of time needed to respond to a notification.

Like many U.S. court proceedings during the coronavirus crisis, today’s hearing took place in the form of a telephone conference. As proceedings began, the former chief judge for the Southern District of New York quipped that many have been boosting their Vitamin-C reserves with “quarantinis.”

The Second Circuit put Preska at the case’s helm last July, long before the novel virus Covid-19 first erupted in China spawning a global pandemic and national emergency.

Her task is to review and potentially unseal files from a lawsuit that Epstein accuser Virginia Giuffre brought against the now-deceased financier’s ex-associate Ghislaine Maxwell.

Disclosure could prove limited: In January, Preska ruled that only records that formed the basis of court rulings in Giuffre’s old lawsuit against Maxwell would be entitled to the presumption of public access. She emphasized, however, that her ruling would not end the case.

“The court is mindful of the fact that there is a great deal of public intrigue surrounding the unsealing of the documents at issue here,” Preska wrote. “With that in mind, this court emphasizes that this ruling is a narrow one.”

Much of the public’s interest in Epstein’s case stems from the investigative journalism of the Miami Herald and its reporter Julie Brown, whose series “Perversion of Justice” spurred the resignation of Trump’s former Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta. The paper’s reporting also reanimated civil litigation from the convicted pedophile’s victims and has been credited for Epstein’s federal sex-trafficking indictment, whose investigation has outlived its key defendant.

A little more than an hour before today’s telephone conference, The Herald signaled it would remain a thorn in the side of Epstein’s associates in a memo giving Maxwell’s legal team a lesson in press freedom.

“Ms. Maxwell’s attack on [The Herald and Brown]’s reporting on this case of significant public interest is wholly unwarranted, and her positions demonstrate her interest in continues to hide from public scrutiny that which has already been sealed for far too long,” the paper’s attorney Christine Walz wrote. “She further fundamentally mischaracterizes the role of the media in seeking access to court records: The media are not distinguishable from the public; they are the surrogates for the public.”

Highlighting the potential for further press scrutiny, Walz took umbrage during today’s phone conference with Maxwell’s bid to have the language of the notifications emphasize the consequence of the information becoming public.

Judge Preska agreed that the semantic change Maxwell proposed “does sound terribly scary” and was not needed, as the notifications already state that the files would become publicly available.

“Accordingly, the proposed language is denied,” Preska said.

When the Second Circuit unsealed an initial tranche of files in August, their release turned up public scrutiny on model scout Jean Luc Brunel, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, financier Glenn Dubin and former Senator George Mitchell to name a few. Another of these individuals, Britain’s Prince Andrew, has been dogged by controversy ever since.

Andrew, who is Queen Elizabeth II’s second son, is still reeling from a public-relations disaster that transpired with a BBC interview in November. Federal prosecutors in New York disclosed earlier this month that the prince “completely shut the door on voluntary cooperation,” forcing the U.S. Attorneys’ office to weigh other options.

Former prosecutors from the district say those measures could include everything from a request under the mutual legal assistance treaty, or MLAT, to an arrest warrant.

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