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Judge sets rapid pace to end fight over Jeffrey Epstein 'sweetheart' deal

Jane Musgrave, The Palm Beach Post on

Published in News & Features

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- By August, a federal judge should have the information he needs to decide whether to throw out a controversial agreement that allowed billionaire Jeffrey Epstein to escape federal prosecution for having sex with teens at his Palm Beach mansion.

In an order on Monday, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra set a brisk schedule for prosecutors and the young women's attorneys to follow to help him unravel an unprecedented legal mess that was created in 2007 when the deal was inked.

Marra in February ruled that federal prosecutors violated the women's rights by not conferring with them before deciding to shelve a 52-page federal indictment accusing Epstein, 66, of having sex with minors. However, while finding that prosecutors violated the federal Crime Victims Rights Act, Marra didn't fashion a remedy.

Attorneys representing two of the politically connected money manager's more than three dozen victims have long said they want the nonprosecution agreement to be thrown out.

Marra gave them 30 days to file court papers explaining how that could be done and suggesting other ways to compensate the women.

Federal prosecutors will have 30 days to refute or support the request from the victims' lawyers. Then, the women's attorneys will have another 15 days to respond to the prosecutors' arguments, Marra said.

Epstein's high-powered lawyers, including Miami attorney Roy Black and New York attorney Jay Lefkowitz, will also get a chance to weigh in before the end of July when all of the legal briefs are due.

Marra's timetable gives federal prosecutors far less time than they wanted.

In court papers filed Friday, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jill Steinberg and Nathan Kitchens said they needed two months to talk to the more than 30 women who claim Epstein paid them for sex when some were as young as 14. After talking to the women, they said they wanted another roughly five months to decide how to redress the wrongs.

Marra said the prosecutors are free to meet with Epstein's victims or their attorneys in the 60 days they have before they file their final papers. But, he didn't make it mandatory.

Former federal judge Paul Cassell, attorney for two Epstein victims who accused prosecutors of violating their rights, applauded Marra's decision to move quickly to end the decade-old dispute.

"The Jane Does are pleased that Judge Marra has set up a rapid schedule for bringing this case to a conclusion and ultimately providing the victims with the remedies that they deserve," Cassell said, referring to the women by the pseudonyms they have used since they launched the court battle in 2008.

The requests the women will make shouldn't surprise federal prosecutors. In 2011, Cassell and attorney Bradley Edwards outlined 21 ways prosecutors and Epstein could be forced to atone for violating the women's rights. Their top goal: throwing out the nonprosecution agreement.

While prosecutors have said that such action would stomp on Epstein's rights, Cassell and Edwards disagreed.

 

"Such a remedy would not violate Epstein's constitutional rights because he was and is a party to the illegal agreement -- and, indeed, he orchestrated the illegality," Edwards and Cassell wrote.

Scores of emails that are part of the court file reveal a cozy relationship between then-U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta, his prosecutors and Epstein's attorneys. Acosta is now U.S. Labor secretary. Some of the emails also show the bare-knuckle tactics Epstein's attorneys used -- tactics that at times inflamed prosecutors.

To avoid federal prosecution, Epstein agreed to plead guilty to two minor state prostitution charges. He served 13 months of an 18-month sentence in a vacant wing of the Palm Beach County jail -- a cell he was allowed to leave 12 hours a day, six days a week. He also agreed to register as a sex offender and to compensate the women who filed civil lawsuits against him.

While throwing out what many described as a "sweetheart deal" would be a start, Cassell and Edwards also suggested other remedies.

Marra could order federal prosecutors to apologize for their behavior, compensate Epstein's victims, pay their attorneys and explain why federal charges weren't pursued. Marra could also spell out how victims should be handled in the future to prevent others from having their rights ignored.

In response, Marra indicated that their requests, including throwing out the agreement, were within the realm of possibilities.

"As a threshold matter, the court finds that the (Crime Victims Rights Act) is properly interpreted to authorize the rescission or 're-opening' of a prosecutorial agreement -- including a nonprosecution arrangement -- reached in violation of a prosecutor's conferral obligations under the statute," he wrote in 2011.

But, Marra emphasized, while he could throw out the agreement and order prosecutors to talk to the victims, he can't force them to file federal charges against Epstein.

"What the government chooses to do after a conferral with the victims is a matter outside the reach of the CVRA, which reserves absolute prosecutorial discretion to the government," he wrote.

(c)2019 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.)

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