After the Miami Herald ran a bombshell exposé on disgraced billionaire Jeffrey Epstein’s sex crimes on Wednesday, a New York federal judge released a transcript showing an effort to keep the paper from learning about another accuser’s case.
The Herald’s three-part investigative series “Perversion of Justice” reported that President Donald Trump’s Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta – whose agency monitors human trafficking – helped Epstein’s star-studded defense team land their client a sweetheart plea deal that protected his co-conspirators, kept him out of federal prison, and hid the details of the deal from dozens of alleged victims.
A decade before becoming a Trump cabinet member, Acosta had been Epstein’s federal prosecutor, and the series suggests an extensive cover-up from the financier’s powerful associates in the political and legal worlds ripe for exposure in the #MeToo era.
As the Herald went to print this morning, U.S. Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn released a transcript from a hearing earlier this month in a sex-trafficking lawsuit involving one of the accusers not mentioned in their series: Barcelona-based accuser Sarah Ransome.
“So, I have a series of letters from the parties regarding the dispute over the confidentiality order,” Netburn began the Nov. 7 telephone conference.
Attorneys for Epstein’s associate Ghislaine Maxwell, a British-born socialite accused of organizing his underage sex parties, sought a protective order covering information about “sexual activity or sexual contact.”
Ransome’s attorney Sigrid McCawley, from the powerhouse law firm Boies Schiller & Flexner, thought the language far too broad.
“The concern I have with the broadbrush of sexual activity is that the case we brought is obviously in violation under the Sexual Trafficking Act, so it would encompass essentially everything that’s going to transpire in the case,” McCawley warned the judge.
Before stepping forward to the New York Times, Ransome filed her lawsuit anonymously as Jane Doe 43, but her attorney McCawley clarified that her client did not have many confidentiality concerns since coming out publicly as one of Epstein’s accusers.
“And while that – there may be a way to modify that, for example, sexual activity as it relates to minors or something in that regard if we are going to have a witness who was abused by, or allegedly abused by the defendants when they were underage, I will be willing to talk about something like that would cover or protect from that issue,” McCawley said. “But to have a very broad definition of any sexual activity would – you know, everything we would be filing would be almost entirely under seal.”
Telling McCawley “your point is well taken,” Judge Netburn agreed that “very little would be authorized to be filed under seal” that would be relevant to an issue for her ruling.
“Right now, we’re really talking about discovery and exchanging information, and I think it’s reasonable for non-parties especially, but even parties, to, you know, to disclose information without a fear that it’s going to be passed to the New York Times,” Netburn added.
The hearing transcript reveals that the newspaper Maxwell’s legal team feared most had been the Herald, which unsuccessfully sought to unseal documents in a different case in the same court involving another accuser: Virginia Giuffre, who called herself Epstein’s former “sex slave.”
In August, U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet denied the Herald’s request to unseal documents “given the highly sensitive nature of the underlying allegations.”
“Documents designated confidential included a range of allegations of sexual acts involving plaintiff and non-parties to this litigation, some famous, some not,” Sweet wrote in a 41-page opinion currently under appeal in the Second Circuit.
Born Virginia Roberts, the 35-year-old Giuffre claimed that Maxwell recruited her from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago to work as Epstein’s masseuse. She wrote in an affidavit subsequently stricken from the court record that Epstein lent her out to his attorney Alan Dershowitz and Prince Andrew, who denied the allegations.
Guiffre’s case entered into a confidential settlement in May 2017.
Maxwell’s attorney Laura Menninger, from the firm Haddon, Morgan and Foreman, noted that the Herald has not stopped fighting to pry open that case’s docket in the Second Circuit.
“The Miami Herald, who I now have been observing by their reporter as of yesterday, is writing a story about this – about Ms. Giuffre’s a case and has introduced Ms. Giuffre,” Menninger said at the Nov. 7 conference.
After the telephone conference, Netburn agreed to designate as confidential any information reflecting “sexual activity or sexual contact,” but she warned that that order only applies to the discovery process.
“The parties are reminded that this protective order is primarily for the purpose of disclosures among the parties,” the judge said. “The fact that the parties have determined that particular information is confidential under a protective order, does not mean that it will be filed under seal when submitted to the court for purposes of a judicial determination.”
During the Nov. 7 telephone conference, Netburn warned the parties that anyone who violates confidentiality would be held in contempt.
“You know, I’m not sure that any wordsmithing that we’re going to do here with respect to the destruction of electronic documents is going to be more powerful than the fact that I will hold the party in contempt if they violate any of the terms of the protective order,” she said at the time.
Attorneys for Ransome, Epstein and Maxwell did not immediately respond Wednesday to email requests for comment.