Prince Andrew must face sex-abuse lawsuit

Prince Andrew must face sex-abuse lawsuit

In this file photo taken on April 11, 2021, Britain's Prince Andrew, Duke of York attends the Sunday service at the Royal Chapel of All Saints in Windsor, England. (Photo: AFP)
In this file photo taken on April 11, 2021, Britain's Prince Andrew, Duke of York attends the Sunday service at the Royal Chapel of All Saints in Windsor, England. (Photo: AFP)

Prince Andrew failed to convince a judge to toss a lawsuit accusing him of sexually abusing a teenage girl decades ago.

Virginia Giuffre claims the British royal was one of several powerful men to whom Jeffrey Epstein lent her for abuse as a teenager. Andrew has denied her allegation but also argued to a federal judge in New York that he's shielded from suit by a 2009 settlement between Giuffre and Epstein.

United States District Judge Lewis Kaplan said Wednesday it was too early in the case to determine the meaning of the agreement.

"The parties have articulated at least two reasonable interpretations of the critical language," Kaplan said in a 43-page opinion. "The agreement therefore is ambiguous. Accordingly, the determination of the meaning of the release language in the 2009 agreement must await further proceedings."

Andrew Brettler, the Los Angeles-based lawyer who argued Andrew's motion to dismiss, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Lawyers for Giuffre also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In her complaint, Giuffre described an alleged encounter in London during which Epstein, his girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell and Andrew forced an underage Giuffre to have sex. Maxwell was convicted last month of sex-trafficking teenage girls for Epstein.

Evidence Demanded

The ruling means that Andrew, Queen Elizabeth’s second son, will have to provide evidence demanded by Giuffre's team if he continues to defend the case, a process that could take many months or even years. The prince stepped aside from representing the royal family publicly after a disastrous 2019 interview with the BBC in which he sought unsuccessfully to lay to rest suspicions tied to his friendship with Epstein and Maxwell. 

The ruling is not a surprise, as Kaplan had expressed skepticism about Andrew's arguments in a Jan 4 hearing. And he declined to delay the pretrial exchange of evidence, a sign he was thinking about allowing the suit to go forward.

Giuffre signed a US$500,000 settlement with Epstein in November 2009 after suing him earlier that year. The release covers Epstein, his lawyers, employees and “any other person or entity who could have been included as a potential defendant” in her suit. 

In the hearing, Kaplan questioned how Epstein could have intended that the agreement, which was to remain secret, would be used by Andrew to protect himself. In his decision, the judge further pointed out that Giuffre, the other party to the agreement, may have had very different goals than Epstein in reaching a deal.

'Other Wrongdoers'

"The goals of one in Ms. Giuffre's position hypothetically could have included getting as much money as she could for settling the case and keeping as much of her freedom to go after other alleged wrongdoers as she could while still getting an acceptable sum of money," Kaplan wrote.

The nine-page agreement, made public on Jan 3, includes a requirement that the settlement amount remain confidential. The parties also agreed that the deal "should not in any way be construed as an admission by Jeffrey Epstein" that he violated any federal or state laws.

Kaplan rejected Andrew's other arguments to throw out the case, including that Giuffre's claims were insufficiently clear. The judge had mocked that argument during the Jan 4 hearing.

"It was sexual intercourse. Involuntary sexual intercourse," Kaplan said. “There’s no doubt about what that means, at least since somebody else was in the White House,” an apparent reference to Bill Clinton, who appointed him to the federal bench.

The case is Giuffre vs Prince Andrew, 21-cv-06702, US District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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