The Supreme Court of the United States on Tuesday left in place previous lower court rulings that dismissed a lawsuit from a woman who claims she was sexually abused by Jeffrey Epstein when she was a minor.
Courtney Wild has, for nearly a decade, sued various federal defendants over the sweetheart deal the federal government extended to the now-dead pedophile back in 2007. Authorities say Epstein died by suicide in a New York City jail in 2019.
That 2007 plea deal, crafted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida, atypically included a non-prosecution agreement for any and all accused co-conspirators and was entered into without any input from the dead financier’s numerous minor victims.
At the same time, the victims were repeatedly told by U.S. government attorneys that prosecutors were obligated to confer with them if, and when, an agreement was reached. The victims trusted those assurances; their faith, of course, was misplaced.
As a result of the bargain, Epstein spent 13 months in prison but was allowed to leave most days, going to and from his office to work. He also was allowed to see and entertain female visitors — including at least one minor who was allowed to visit him 90 times.
The lack of victim participation in the deal that allowed Epstein to plead guilty to relatively minor state charges of procuring a person under 18 for prostitution and solicitation in exchange for a federal case never being filed by Alexander Acosta’s office was cited by Wild as a violation of the Crime Victims Rights Act of 2004 (CVRA).
In April 2020, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with her while expressing some concern for her plight.
“Despite our sympathy for Ms. Wild and others like her, who suffered unspeakable horror at Epstein’s hands, only to be left in the dark—and, so it seems, affirmatively misled—by government lawyers, we find ourselves constrained to deny her petition,” Donald Trump-appointed Circuit Judge Kevin Newsom wrote. “We hold that at least as matters currently stand—which is to say at least as the CVRA is currently written—rights under the Act do not attach until criminal proceedings have been initiated against a defendant, either by complaint, information, or indictment.”
In April 2021, the en banc 11th Circuit decided the case again–again siding with the government and telling Epstein’s victims that their issues and rights are not a matter the U.S. legal system is obliged to take up — at least not under the purview of the CVRA.
And, again, Newsom offered concern for Wild and the other women in her place but insisted that the law was kept the court from voiding the terms of that controversial plea agreement.
“We have the profoundest sympathy for Ms. Wild and others like her, who suffered unspeakable horror at Epstein’s hands, only to be left in the dark — and, so it seems, affirmatively misled — by government attorneys,” the majority opinion reads. “Even so, we find ourselves constrained to deny Ms. Wild’s petition crime victim like Ms. Wild to ‘mov[e]’ for relief within the context of a preexisting proceeding — and, more generally, to pursue administrative remedies — it does not authorize a victim to seek judicial enforcement of her CVRA rights in a freestanding civil action. Because the government never filed charges against Epstein, there was no preexisting proceeding in which Ms. Wild could have moved for relief under the CVRA, and the Act does not sanction her stand-alone suit.”
The dissent, however, explained the procedural churning that led to the filing of Wild’s independent civil lawsuit — and noted that it was Epstein’s attorneys who sought to push back against CVRA involvement.
“Epstein’s attorneys opposed any victim notifications, but the U.S. Attorney’s Office insistently and repeatedly told Epstein’s attorneys that it was statutorily obligated under the CVRA to notify and confer with the victims about the Agreement and upcoming events, including Epstein’s state plea,” Circuit Judge Elizabeth L. Branch wrote in a dissent. “Nevertheless, for still unknown reasons, the U.S. Attorney’s Office acquiesced to the demands of Epstein’s attorneys and did not notify all of the victims of the Agreement. Rather, the U.S. Attorney’s Office affirmatively misled victims for months concerning the Agreement and the resolution of the federal case.”
In August 2021, Wild appealed to the nine justices of the nation’s highest court.
“The CVRA promises crime victims in federal cases a right to confer with prosecutors,” her petition to the Supreme Court said. “Yet in this case, one of the most infamous child sex traffickers in this country’s history — Jeffrey Epstein, a man with wealth, power, and political influence — was able to negotiate a secret non-prosecution agreement with federal prosecutors. The resulting tragedy was that the child victims who bravely came forward to report their sexual abuse were, as the en banc (11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals) decision below acknowledged, ‘left in the dark — and, so it seems, affirmatively misled — by government lawyers’ as to why Epstein was not being federally prosecuted for his horrific crimes.”
The Biden administration, in a brief, argued the court should not entertain Wild’s “tragic” lawsuit — in part because it said the federal government had learned some lessons over the past decade.
“The Department engaged closely with victims in both its 2019 prosecution of Epstein in New York and its recent successful prosecution of Ghislaine Maxwell,” a filing by Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar argued. “And the Department recently embarked on a review of its guidance to prosecutors regarding victim and witness assistance.”
In two curt lines, the nation’s high court allowed a concerned third-party to file arguments in the case while simultaneously denying the case a hearing.
“The motion of Child USA for leave to file a brief as amicus curiae is granted,” the high court wrote in their orders list dated Feb. 22, 2022. “The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.”
In other words, the third-party filing is on the record — but the high court is not hearing the case.
[image via U.S. Department of Justice]
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