TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) — While describing the circumstances of the case as a “tale of national disgrace,” a federal appeals court Thursday ruled against one of notorious sex offender Jeffrey Epstein’s victims who contended that prosecutors violated her rights.
Courtney Wild, one of the late financier’s numerous underage victims, argued that federal prosecutors violated her rights under a law known as the Crime Victims’ Rights Act when they secretly negotiated a deal in 2007 that shielded Epstein from federal criminal charges.READ MORE: Business Owners In South Florida Say They're Struggling To Get Employees Back To Work
After learning about the non-prosecution agreement, Wild filed a lawsuit in federal court in South Florida that alleged prosecutors violated her rights under the law to be able to confer with the government’s lawyers and to be treated fairly by them.
But after more than a decade of litigation, a majority of the Atlanta-based appeals court ruled Thursday that the Crime Victims’ Rights Act does not authorize her to ask a judge to enforce her rights in a “freestanding civil action.”
“We are aware, of course, that many will misunderstand today’s decision. To be clear, the question before us is not whether Jeffrey Epstein was a bad man. By all accounts, he was,” Judge Kevin Newsom wrote in a 53-page majority opinion. “Nor is the question before us whether, as a matter of best practices, prosecutors should have consulted with Ms. Wild (and other victims) before negotiating and executing Epstein’s NPA (non-prosecution agreement). By all accounts — including the government’s own — they should have. Our sole charge is to determine, on the facts before us, whether the CVRA (Crime Victims’ Rights Act) provides Ms. Wild with a private right of action to enforce her rights outside of the context of a preexisting criminal proceeding. Despite our sympathy for Ms. Wild — and the courage that she has shown in pursuing this litigation — we find ourselves constrained to hold that it does not.”
Newsom was joined by six other judges in all or parts of the majority opinion. But as a sign of the complexity — and contentiousness — of the issues, judges also wrote two concurring opinions and two dissenting opinions.
In one of the dissents, Judge Frank Hull disputed the majority’s conclusion that Wild is not authorized to pursue the lawsuit and wrote that the “ruling eviscerates the CVRA and makes the Epstein case a poster child for an entirely different justice system for crime victims of wealthy defendants.”
“Ms. Wild has spent over 10 years seeking to vindicate her statutory rights expressly created by Congress,” wrote Hull, one of four dissenting judges. “Today, the majority tells Ms. Wild and Epstein’s other victims that all of that was for naught, since they never had the right to file their motion in the first place back in 2008.”READ MORE: ‘Pretty Big Pay Package’: Broward School Board Negotiates $743K Exit Deal For Embattled Supt. Robert Runcie
A three-judge panel of the appeals court last year concluded that the agreement did not violate the federal law. But the appeals court later vacated that ruling and ordered an “en banc,” or full court, hearing. The court held a hearing in December.
Under the deal approved by prosecutors in 2007, Epstein sidestepped federal charges and agreed to plead guilty to two state prostitution charges, including procuring a minor for sex. The plea deal also provided immunity from federal prosecution for Epstein, four other named co-conspirators and “any potential co-conspirators.”
After the plea agreement on state charges, Epstein was arrested in July 2019 and charged with federal sex-trafficking offenses involving minor girls from Florida and other places. He was found dead in a jail cell a month later in what was deemed a suicide.
In pursuing the lawsuit, Wild sought to undo the non-prosecution agreement so that Epstein’s alleged co-conspirators could be punished for crimes perpetrated against her and other young girls.
The majority opinion repeatedly expressed disgust with the handling of the Epstein case by prosecutors, saying that the “facts underlying this case, as we understand them, are beyond scandalous — they tell a tale of national disgrace.”
But Newsom wrote that because the federal 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.”
“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 said. “Even so, we find ourselves constrained to deny Ms. Wild’s petition.”MORE NEWS: Pembroke Pines PD: 15-Year-Old Bicyclist Killed After Being Dragged Under Minivan For 30 Feet
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