Judge rules that Epstein documents in New York court case will stay under seal — for now

Who helped the pedophile financier Jeffrey Epstein abuse scores of young women?

Although Epstein was found dead in a New York City jail earlier this year, a list of names of wealthy and well-connected people who may have helped him commit his crimes lives on. The possible enablers could be named in a batch of sealed court documents filed in a civil lawsuit between one of Epstein’s accusers, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, and his former girlfriend, Ghislaine Maxwell, a British socialite who is said to have procured him vulnerable, underage victims.

Now a federal judge has decided that some of those documents will remain sealed — for now.

At question are motions in the case that were never decided by U.S. District Court Judge Robert Sweet.

A federal appeals court ruled last year that motions upon which Sweet had passed judgment should be unsealed.

But U.S. District Court Judge Loretta Preska concluded that the undecided motions, in contrast, were not “judicial documents subject to the presumption of public access” and should remain under seal.

Giuffre, who sued Maxwell for defamation in New York federal court in 2015, had asked Preska to unseal documents that could reveal more information about Epstein’s operation, including the undecided motions and related filings. The Miami Herald intervened in the case, also asking for the documents to be unsealed. Other media organizations have filed briefs in support.

How the law, the press and his victims finally caught up with Jeffrey Epstein

In an opinion released Monday, Preska said that the purpose of public access was to monitor the conduct of judges and how they arrive at their decisions. She noted that Giuffre and Maxwell had settled their claims in 2017. Since the dispute between the parties had concluded, Preska said, there was no compelling reason to unseal the motions. (Sweet died last year.)

“With respect to motions left undecided by Judge Sweet,” Preska wrote, “there was never, and now never can be, a judicial decision-making process that would trigger the public’s right to access the undecided motions and the documents relevant to them.”

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However, the judge also acknowledged the “great deal of public intrigue surrounding the unsealing of the documents at issue here.” She said that some of the undecided motions could be unsealed if they are demonstrated to have been “relevant” to Sweet’s decisions. Preska has also called a conference between the parties for Thursday to discuss an “individualized review of the relevant documents” that are to be released.

Sandy Bohrer, an attorney for the Herald, said Tuesday that “we believe the judge’s ruling too narrowly construes the law regarding openness of public judicial records and access to those records and intend to ask her to reconsider.”

Managing Editor Rick Hirsch said the Herald wants to hear what is said in court on Thursday before deciding on a course of action.

Giuffre claims that she was trafficked by Epstein and Maxwell to wealthy and powerful politicians, lawyers, academics and government leaders starting when she was underage. Giuffre sued Maxwell for defamation after Maxwell publicly denounced her as a liar. Several sources have told the Herald that the case was settled in Giuffre’s favor in 2017. The Herald went to court in January 2019 to unseal the records as part of an investigation called “Perversion of Justice” that examined Epstein’s favorable treatment by the Palm Beach State Attorney’s Office, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami.

He was arrested more than a decade ago only to be given immunity from federal prosecution on sex trafficking charges by South Florida’s then-U.S. attorney, Alexander Acosta, provided he plead guilty to lesser charges in state court. The deal was kept secret from the dozens of underage girls who accused Epstein of abuse.

Last year, after the Herald’s series was published, Epstein was arrested anew on federal sex trafficking charges. He was found dead in a federal jail in August before he could be brought to trial. Authorities say he hanged himself, although Epstein’s brother has disputed that.

Maxwell has denied any allegations that she acted as a “madam” for Epstein. She has not been charged criminally but is under federal investigation by the FBI for her alleged participation in Epstein’s sex-trafficking operation.

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