A federal judge in Florida ruled Monday that victims of late accused child sex predator Jeffrey Epstein will not get monetary damages from the U.S. government, despite a failure by federal prosecutors to inform them years ago about a controversial non-prosecution deal with the wealthy financier.
Judge Kenneth Marra also ruled against the victims' request that their lawyer fees be paid for by the government.
But Marra also suggested that the victims could "take solace" in the fact that their lawsuit against the government had brought national attention to the Crime Victims' Rights Act, the "shortcomings" of the Justice Department in dealing with Epstein victims and the fact that their civil case played a role in spurring a federal prosecution of Epstein in July.
Marra had ruled last February that federal prosecutors in Florida had violated the Crime Victims' Rights Act by not telling them they were agreeing in 2007 not to bring serious sex crime charges against Epstein, in exchange for his guilty plea to relatively minor state charges the following year.
As part of that ruling in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Marra had allowed two of Epstein's victims to argue what remedies, "if any, should be imposed by" Marra for the government's failure to inform the victims of the non-prosecution deal.
But the CVRA "does not authorize an award of restitution against the United States," Marra said in his decision Monday.
"Despite Petitioners having demonstrated the Government violated their rights under the CVRA, in the end they are not receiving much, if any, of the relief they sought," Marra wrote.
"They may take solace, however, in the fact that this litigation has brought national attention to the Crime Victims' Rights Act and the importance of victims in the criminal justice system," the judge added.
"It has also resulted in the United States Department of Justice acknowledging its shortcomings in dealing with crime victims, and its promise to better train its prosecutors regarding the rights of victims under the CVRA in the future," the judge said.
Brad Edwards and Paul Cassell, lawyers for a group of Epstein victims, in a prepared statement after Marra's decision was issued, lauded their clients for "bravely" standing up to Epstein and the U.S. government, whose prosecutors "entered into a secret agreement that gave Mr. Epstein a pass in Florida for abusing those children."
"Of course, this is not the ending we had hoped for, but the enormous progression of victims' rights through this case will ensure that violations like this never happen again in this country," the lawyers said. "For that, the fight was worth it.We are exploring all options for continuing the fight, including the possibility of an appeal.
Epstein, a former friend of Presidents Donald Trump and Bill Clinton, had pleaded not guilty in that case, where prosecutors had accused him of sexually abusing dozens of underage girls from 2002 through 2005 at his luxurious residences on Manhattan's Upper East Side, and in Palm Beach, Florida.
Epstein became the subject of a local police investigation in Florida in the mid-2000s for his habitual use of young women to give him massages — allegedly as frequently as three times daily. A dispute between police and local prosecutors over how to handle the case led to the involvement of the U.S. Attorney's Office for Miami, then headed by Alex Acosta.
Acosta's office ultimately reached an agreement not to prosecute Epstein for federal felonies related to his suspected abused of underage girls. In exchange, Epstein in 2008 pleaded guilty to a state charge of procuring a prostitute under the age of 18, and for agreeing to register for life as a sex offender.
He served 13 months in jail for that conviction, although he was allowed out of his cell on work release for significant amounts of that time.
Acosta's office failed to inform Epstein's accusers about the non-prosecution deal before when it was reached in 2007.
Two accusers later sued the federal government for violating the Crime Victims' Rights Act for that failure.
Acosta was confirmed as Trump's secretary of the Department of Labor in spring 2017.
After Epstein was arrested in July at an airport in Teterboro, New Jersey, where he had flown in from Paris on his private jet, Acosta came under heavy criticism for the non-prosecution deal. He soon after resigned as Labor secretary.
Full statement by Paul Cassell and Bradley Edwards, lawyers for women who sued the government for failing to notify them of a non-prosecution deal of Jeffrey Epstein:
More than 10 years ago, diligent police officers and FBI agents uncovered Jeffrey Epstein's serious sexual crimes committed against several dozens of children. Rather than prosecute Mr. Epstein and his co-conspirators, prosecutors entered into a secret agreement that gave Mr. Epstein a pass in Florida for abusing those children.
Most victims would have let the Government and Mr. Epstein get away with it, and nobody would have ever known about that injustice. However, Courtney Wild, one of Mr. Epstein's victims, bravely stood up to both Mr. Epstein and the United States Government and sued the Government for violating her rights. Other victims then joined.
Earlier this year, Judge Marra ruled that the Government had violated her rights and the rights of Mr. Epstein's other victims. A month ago Mr. Epstein died. Today, Judge Marra ruled that the CVRA case be closed as a consequence of Mr. Epstein's death.
Courtney, and the other Epstein victims who pursued this important case, should not be sad, but instead proud. Together, we have forever demonstrated that nobody is above the law, not the wealthy and not even the Government. Through this case, we have strengthened the importance and the role of victims in the criminal justice system.
As Judge Marra alluded to in his Order, this case undoubtedly elevated public awareness of Mr. Epstein's crimes and played a vital role in his eventual arrest in New York.
Of course, this is not the ending we had hoped for, but the enormous progression of victims' rights through this case will ensure that violations like this never happen again in this country. For that, the fight was worth it.We are exploring all options for continuing the fight, including the possibility of an appeal.