© 2024 WLRN
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

New Report Could Bolster Epstein Victim's Case In Florida

The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals  in Atlanta.
The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

TALLAHASSEE --- A report released last week by the U.S. Department of Justice about federal prosecutors’ handling of notorious sex offender Jeffrey Epstein sheds new light on a 12-year-old lawsuit filed by one of the late financier’s victims, according to court documents filed Monday.

The report found that former South Florida U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta used “poor judgment” in striking a non-prosecution agreement with Epstein more than a decade ago.

But lawyers for victim Courtney Wild said the report by the Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility shows that government officials for more than a decade kept secret other information sought by her lawyers in a drawn-out legal battle over whether prosecutors violated victims’ rights by hatching the secret deal without getting the input of women who were abused by Epstein when they were minors.

Wild, a Florida woman who as a teen was among the numerous minors abused by Epstein, filed the lawsuit against federal prosecutors in 2008, alleging that the non-prosecution agreement violated her rights under the federal Crime Victims’ Rights Act to be able to confer with the government’s lawyers and be treated fairly by them.

The full 11th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments in the case on Dec. 3, after reversing a three-judge panel’s April ruling. The panel concluded that, although the facts of the case were “beyond scandalous” and a “national disgrace,” the agreement did not violate the federal victims’-rights law.

While briefs already have been filed in the case, Wild’s lawyers on Monday asked the Atlanta-based appeals court to consider information in the newly released report.

The report showed that the government failed to provide documents to Wild’s attorneys and also revealed the Justice Department’s views on how Acosta treated Epstein’s victims, an element that plays a critical role in Wild’s lawsuit.

Acosta served for two years as secretary of labor in President Donald Trump’s administration, but he was forced to step down in 2019 amid the controversy about the Epstein plea deal.

The Department of Justice report said the “government failed to treat (Epstein’s) victims forthrightly and with sensitivity,” Wild’s lawyers wrote Monday, quoting from the 286-page document.

“This semantic obfuscation relies on the thesaurusification to avoid directly conceding that the government violated Ms. Wild’s CVRA (Crime Victims’ Rights Act) rights to be treated with ‘fairness’ and ‘dignity.’ Through twelve years of arduous litigation, the government has strenuously denied this basic conclusion. The government’s own admission, along with the documentary and other evidence fully supporting it, is plainly relevant to a central issue in the case,” Wild’s lawyers wrote.

The Department of Justice issued an executive summary of the report on Friday. Monday’s “time-sensitive motion to supplement the record with previously concealed information” heavily relied on the full version of the report.

The new information is relevant to Wild’s lawsuit because “it shows that the government has concealed important information about the email record in this case,” her lawyers argued.

More than a decade ago, Wild’s lawyers began requesting various documents from government officials, such as emails between Acosta and Epstein’s legal team, as they sought to unravel the non-prosecution agreement.

But an addendum to the report revealed a “data gap” in Acosta’s email inbox from May 2007 through April 2008 --- “the exact time period Mr. Acosta was most deeply involved in negotiating and approving the Epstein NPA (non-prosecution agreement),” according to Wild’s lawyers.

“As even passing familiarity with the Epstein case would make clear, this ‘data gap’ precisely covers the months of greatest interest to anyone trying to determine what happened during the Epstein NPA negotiations,” they argued.

The government “was aware --- but has failed to previously disclose to Ms. Wild or this court --- that a ‘data gap’ existed in Acosta’s email inbox covering exactly the critical time period when he was leading the prosecution team negotiating the NPA,” they said.

Under the agreement, Epstein pleaded guilty to two state prostitution charges in Florida, including procuring a minor for sex. The plea deal also provided immunity from federal prosecution for Epstein and at least four other co-conspirators.

After more than a decade of litigation, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra ruled in February 2019 that federal prosecutors broke the law when they struck the plea deal with the multimillionaire. But after Epstein died last year, the federal judge refused to undo the plea agreement or grant other remedies sought by Wild, who filed the lawsuit as “Jane Doe 1,” and another victim.

New information in the Department of Justice investigative report supports Wild’s arguments that the non-prosecution agreement’s immunity provisions were illegal and voidable and supports her request for attorney fees, her lawyers wrote in Monday’s motion.

The report revealed “internal deliberations that the government has been resisting disclosing to Ms. Wild and other victims on grounds that any disclosure would damage government interests,” Wild’s lawyers wrote.

“Those new disclosures unequivocally demonstrate that the government did not treat Ms. Wild and other victims fairly during the investigation,” Wild’s lawyer’s wrote.

While the government has provided many records to Wild’s lawyers over the course of the litigation, federal officials have maintained that decisions concerning the non-prosecution agreement were “privileged and/or protected from disclosure under the work product doctrine,” Wild’s lawyers noted in Monday’s motion.

The lawyers argued that the government “has waived privileges over its internal deliberations” by releasing the report, “which contains more than 150 single-spaced pages revealing its intra-office emails and other internal communications” regarding the non-prosecution agreement.

“Indeed, the only remaining question is why the government has not already informed this court of this important new fact,” they added.

The motion noted that the government has indicated it opposes Wild’s attempt to add the report to the court record.

The 11th Circuit’s decision to reverse the panel’s ruling and reconsider the case in what is known as an “en banc,” or full court, hearing was viewed as a victory for crime victims.

In a May 5 motion requesting the en banc rehearing, Wild’s attorney, University of Utah law professor Paul Cassell, argued that the lawsuit is “perhaps the most important case in our nation’s history involving crime victims’ rights in the criminal justice process.”

Dara Kam / News Service of Florida
More On This Topic