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

Nicholas Nehamas, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

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

Although Epstein was found dead in a New York City jail last summer, 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.

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."

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.

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