WEST PALM BEACH — Can a dead man talk?
That is one of the many thorny legal issues a federal judge will have to decide in the wake of Jeffrey Epstein’s apparent suicide in a New York jail.
In court papers filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in West Palm Beach, attorneys representing young women who claim the 66-year-old politically-connected financier molested them at his Palm Beach mansion said the answer is simple: Epstein’s death means neither he — nor his attorneys — can speak.
"Jeffrey Epstein is dead — and his attorneys cannot attempt to speak clairvoyantly for him,” wrote attorneys Bradley Edwards and Paul Cassell.
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That means, they claim, that Epstein’s longtime attorney Roy Black can’t continue to weigh in on a decade-old legal battle over a once-secret agreement that allowed Epstein and others to escape federal prosecution in connection with what authorities are calling an underage sex ring that ensnared dozens of teens.
U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra is deciding whether the agreement should be thrown out. In February, he ruled that then-South Florida U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta and his prosecutors violated the rights of Epstein’s victims by not telling the teens about the deal before it was too late for them to derail it.
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In court papers, Cassell and Edwards argue that despite Epstein’s death the women they represent still want the agreement to be voided. While Epstein can no longer be prosecuted, the accord also gave immunity to four women and unnamed others who were identified only as "potential co-conspirators."
If Marra throws out the agreement, federal prosecutors could decide whether to charge others in connection with their role in Epstein’s abuse of teenage girls.
In more than 1,000 court documents released last week, British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell and others were accused of helping Epstein recruit teenage girls from Royal Palm Beach High School, Mar-a-Lago and elsewhere to give Epstein nude massages that led to fondling, masturbation and, for some, sex.
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The four women who were specifically granted immunity in the agreement are: Sarah Kellen, Nadia Marcinkova, Adriana Ross and Lesley Groff. While there are allegations in court documents that Kellen and Marcinkova participated in the sordid scheme, there have also been reports that they may have started out as Epstein’s victims.
A lawyer for Groff said she played no role in Epstein’s lurid lifestyle. Groff worked as an executive assistant to Epstein, setting up high-level meetings with CEOs, business executives, scientists, politicians and celebrities, attorney Michael Bachner said in a statement.
"Lesley is shocked and deeply distraught by the accusations and revelations concerning her former employer," Bachner said.
In court papers, Black claims the 2008 lawsuit Marra is deciding is moot. "As a result of Mr. Epstein’s death, all criminal justice process against him has ended," he wrote in a court document filed Wednesday.
Further, he argues, that others who were granted immunity by the agreement can’t be dragged into the lawsuit at this late date.
"At a minimum there should be notice to them so that they have a full and fair opportunity to litigate the claims affecting them," Black wrote.
However, Edwards and Cassell countered that Black’s views about how Marra should handle the lawsuit are meaningless because the Miami attorney no longer has a client to represent.
"Because Epstein is dead, no such response by him could even be possible — let alone proper," they wrote, asking Marra to ignore Black’s argument.
Epstein’s death, which came while he was awaiting trial on child sex trafficking charges in New York, means his accusers will never see him brought to justice, they said. In death, he shouldn’t be allowed to protect others involved in his scheme, they said.
They noted that Epstein received "privileged treatment" throughout the long-running saga. He was allowed to plead guilty to two state prostitution charges instead of facing a 53-page federal indictment that would have sent him to prison for years.
He served 13 months of an 18-month jail sentence in a largely vacant wing of the Palm Beach County Stockade — a cell he was allowed to leave for 12 hours a day, six days a week. He was forced to register as a sex offender and settle lawsuits filed against him by women who accused him of abuse.
"But being allowed to file brief in in this Court after his death would truly be extraordinary by any measure," they wrote.