The Queen’s third child had hoped to get the lawsuit from Virginia Roberts Giuffre thrown out. Giuffre alleges convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein sexually trafficked her to Prince Andrew when she was underage.
In the lawsuit, Giuffre says the Duke of York was aware she was a minor (17) when she claims he abused her at Epstein’s private island in the US Virgin Islands, at the pedophile’s mansion in Manhattan and at Ghislaine Maxwell‘s home in London.
Prince Andrew has repeatedly denied the allegations and claimed to have no recollection of meeting Giuffre.
In a damning setback for the prince that sets up a potential court room showdown later this year, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan unequivocally rejected his bid to have the case dismissed in a 44-page ruling published Wednesday.
“Ms. Giuffre’s complaint is neither ‘unintelligible’ nor ‘vague’ nor ‘ambiguous,'” Judge Kaplan wrote. “It alleges discrete incidents of sexual abuse in particular circumstances at three identifiable locations. It identifies to whom it attributes that sexual abuse.”
A source close to Prince Andrew told CNN Thursday that the 61-year-old royal will “continue to defend himself” against the lawsuit filed against him. “Given the robustness with which Judge Kaplan greeted our arguments, we are unsurprised by the ruling. However, it was not a judgement on the merits of Ms Giuffre’s allegations,” the source said.
“This is a marathon not a sprint and the Duke will continue to defend himself against these claims,” the source added.
And, in a stunning statement on Thursday evening, Buckingham Palace announced Andrew had handed back his military affiliations and royal patronages to the Queen. “The Duke of York will continue not to undertake any public duties and is defending this case as a private citizen,” the palace statement read.
A royal source told CNN that all of the duke’s roles have been handed back to the 95-year-old monarch with immediate effect for redistribution to other members of the royal family. Andrew will also no longer use the style “His Royal Highness” in any official capacity, the source added.
Prince Andrew facing trial
For many legal experts, the writing was on the wall well before both sides presented their arguments to Judge Kaplan last week.
Georges Lederman, special counsel in the white-collar defense and investigations team at the international law firm Withers says motions to dismiss are “rarely successful.”
He explains: “All that a plaintiff need demonstrate to defeat the motion is that she has satisfied all of the elements necessary to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. That is a low threshold, and, as Judge Kaplan wrote in his ruling, Giuffre in her complaint has indeed satisfied all of the elements necessary to state a claim for sexual abuse.”
Melissa Murray, professor of law at New York University, also tells CNN that “so long as the plaintiff has plead her case with particularity, it is very difficult for a defendant to prevail at this stage.”
Murray continues, “Additionally, it seemed quite clear at the hearing that Judge Kaplan was skeptical of the duke’s claim that he was released from liability by the terms of the 2009 agreement between Giuffre and Epstein.”
Attorneys for Andrew had argued that the prince was shielded from litigation by Giuffre due to a settlement agreement she signed with Epstein in Florida, in which she agreed to a “general release” of claims against Epstein and others.
That settlement, which was unsealed and released to the public last week, shows that Epstein paid Giuffre $500,000 to drop the case without any admission of liability or fault. The prince’s name does not explicitly appear as a party.
The prince’s legal team had hoped the agreement would be something of a trump card. But Murray says that in his ruling, Kaplan noted “that both sides put forth ‘reasonable interpretations’ of the settlement’s meaning” and “because the agreement was ambiguous, the judge concluded, ‘the determination of the meaning of the release language in the 2009 Agreement must await further proceedings.'”
Wednesday’s ruling confirms the beleaguered royal is locked into a protracted and embarrassing legal battle that will undoubtedly cast a dark shadow over his mother’s platinum jubilee year when she’ll be celebrating her 70 years on the throne.
In the days ahead, the case could move towards the discovery stage, where both sides could demand disclosure of documents and reports that are needed to establish their claims or defenses, Murray says.
Murray explains that during discovery “the parties may also be asked to sit for depositions or to provide written answers to interrogatories.”
“Much of the evidence produced during the discovery phase risks becoming part of a public record as the case proceeds to trial,” she adds.
Prince Andrew has until July 14 to potentially answer questions about the case under oath, following a scheduling order set by Kaplan last year. If the case is not settled, he could face a trial date between September and December 2022.
Professor Felicity Gerry, a UK barrister and international legal expert, says the timetable to trial and dates for discovery on both sides are part of a “normal legal process and judges are often asked to decide if each party has complied so expect further hearings along the way.”
And as the path continues towards a trial, the duke has a few legal options he could pursue, according to legal experts. However, each route becomes increasingly unappealing if he hopes to clear his name and, in turn, restore his tarnished reputation.
He could appeal the judge’s decision. Murray says she doesn’t think the duke’s legal team will take this approach because the appellate court would apply the same legal standards as Kaplan. “I think it is very unlikely that the appellate court would reach a different conclusion on the issue,” she says.
If he doesn’t appeal but also doesn’t engage with the discovery process and disregards the timetable Kaplan set, it could open him up to a potentially costly default judgment by the court, according to CNN legal analyst Joey Jackson.
He could try and fight the allegations in court at trial, but that’s a risky strategy.
“If he proceeds to trial, now the dirty laundry is aired,” says Jackson. “He has every right to say ‘I didn’t do this, I don’t remember who you are, I don’t remember the picture I took with you.’ She, of course, will say, ‘yes, you do, and here is what happened.'”
The other option is of course to settle, which is how most civil cases are resolved, experts say.
Several legal analysts CNN spoke to suggest seeking an out-of-court settlement may now be Andrew’s best option.
“In light of the risks of proceeding to trial, the duke may try to reach an out of court settlement with Giuffre, assuming she is amenable to resolving the case via settlement,” says Murray.
“While this would avoid public disclosure of embarrassing evidence (on either side) it might be viewed by some as an acknowledgment of misconduct, contradicting the duke’s earlier television interview where he disclaimed any allegations of wrongdoing.”
Mark Stephens, a media lawyer with the London-based firm Howard Kennedy, says Andrew is in an “appalling position” and has no choice but to try and resolve the case through settlement.
“One of the reasons he’s not settled it up to now is that he knows that the general public will consider that he committed the wrongs in which he’s been accused, or some of the wrongs,” Stephens adds. “We’re so past the possibility of Prince Andrew rehabilitating his reputation in the eyes of the public, that the only thing he could do now to stop this getting worse is to settle.”
But whether Giuffre will want to accept a settlement or fight it out in court is the question.
“There is one other issue because, of course, it’s not in his gift to settle it,” Stephens adds. “It needs an agreement between himself and Virginia Giuffre. And I think she feels that there’s been an element of victim blaming in this particular case, and she may well want her day in court, she may well want her vindication.”
Her lawyer, David Boies, indicated a resolution by way of settlement may not be on the cards in an interview with the BBC.
“I think it’s very important to Virginia Giuffre that this matter be resolved in a way that vindicates her and vindicates the other victims. I don’t think she has a firm view as to exactly what a solution should be,” he said. “But I think what’s going to be important is that this resolution vindicates her and vindicates the claim she has made.”
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