When a Manhattan judge rejected Prince Andrew’s efforts to dismiss Virginia Giuffre’s sexual abuse lawsuit against him, it marked a victory for his longtime accuser.
Judge Lewis Kaplan’s Wednesday ruling also means that the embattled royal will remain embroiled in lengthy – and embarrassing – legal proceedings for the foreseeable future.
“This is a huge development because it clears probably the biggest legal hurdle Virginia Giuffre and her team had to get her case to a jury,” said Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor and co-founder of West Coast Trial Lawyers.
Giuffre, now 38, has long alleged that she was coerced into sex with the Duke of York at the age of 17 by two of his associates – the disgraced American financier Jeffrey Epstein and British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell. Andrew’s lawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Kaplan’s decision.
Epstein, a convicted sex offender, killed himself in a New York jail in summer 2019 pending trial on sex-trafficking charges. Maxwell was found guilty on 29 December of sex-trafficking and related charges for bringing teen girls to Epstein.
Giuffre first alleged in legal papers filed in 2015 that she was forced to have sex with the prince in Epstein’s New York mansion, on his private island in the US Virgin Islands, and at Maxwell’s London home.
Giuffre filed the civil suit against the prince in Manhattan federal court in August of last year, also accusing him of battery and intentionally inflicting emotional distress.
Andrew denies the allegations.
His legal team asked Kaplan to throw out Giuffre’s suit on several grounds.
His lawyers contended that a 2009 settlement between Giuffre and Epstein shielded him from her lawsuit. They pointed to a clause that released “second parties and any other person or entity who could have been included as a potential defendant … from all, and all manner of, action and actions of Virginia [Giuffre], including state or federal, cause and causes of action.” Andrew was not named in this settlement.
Andrew also argued that Giuffre’s claims were too vague, meaning that he wouldn’t be able to adequately defend himself against the allegations. Kaplan rejected the vagueness claim and said it would be premature for him to decide on what, exactly, the 2009 settlement meant for Andrew.
“Judge Kaplan said it’s a question of fact, and questions of fact go to the jury,” Rahmani said. “If it were clear that the settlement agreement covered the prince, he could have dismissed the case, but he chose not to. He said the intent of the settlement agreement is something that juries would have to decide.”
Rahmani pointed out that “the vast majority of civil lawsuits settle for a number of reasons”.
Victims might not want to testify in public about sexual abuse. Defendants, meanwhile, do not want to face judgment should juries find in favor of accusers – nor the continued onslaught of bad press that can increase with a public trial.
However, Rahmani believes this is the rare civil case that is more likely to go before a jury than settle. Giuffre previously settled “for what I would say is an insignificant amount – a nominal amount, pennies on the dollar” for a sexual abuse claim against mega-millionaire Epstein.
And, unlike many others, Giuffre has openly discussed her trauma. She did not testify at Maxwell’s trial, so “this is her one chance to tell her story in a very public way”, Rahmani said.
The prince might also be opposed to settlement for his own reasons. “Prince Andrew has denied that this ever happened, so if he enters into any settlement – even if there’s no admission of liability, even if he tries to keep it confidential, even if it’s not for legal reasons – for PR, reasons, I think this case is going to move forward,” Rahmani said.
“There’s just a number of factors that make this a very unique civil case, which is why, I think, much, much, much more likely to go to trial than your other civil cases.”
Andrew can fight Kaplan’s ruling, either by asking the judge to reconsider, or asking an appeals court to review the decision, though the odds are not in his favor.
“An appeal will be very difficult,” said longtime defense attorney Julie Rendelman. “It was made very clear that the issues that were raised by Prince Andrew’s attorneys are something that are a question of fact, not a question of law and therefore, something that a jury needs to decide, not the judge.”
“When you look at the decision that the judge wrote, it covers all the bases in terms of all the issues raised, and I think that particularly when it comes to a question of fact for a jury, an appeals court is hard pressed to step on that decision-making process.”
While some deadlines are scheduled in the case – including, for example, a 28 July cutoff for both sides to submit a pre-trial proposal – they should be taken with a grain of salt. Depositions and production of evidence could spur still more depositions and production of evidence, spurring extensions of deadlines.
Andrew contends that on the night Giuffre claims she was forced into sex with him in London, he had brought his daughter, Beatrice, to a late-afternoon children’s party at a Pizza Express in Woking. The prince insists that he was then at home with his children all night.
Information and support for anyone affected by rape or sexual abuse issues is available from the following organisations. In the US, Rainn offers support on 800-656-4673. In the UK, Rape Crisis offers support on 0808 802 9999. In Australia, support is available at 1800Respect (1800 737 732). Other international helplines can be found at ibiblio.org/rcip/internl.html