Judge in Prince Andrew sex-abuse lawsuit declines to OK release of secret settlement that could help him

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The headline-making sex-abuse lawsuit against Prince Andrew is inching along after a first hearing in New York on Monday – and there wasn't a lot of good news for the royal to come out of it.

A federal judge declined to OK the release of a secret settlement agreement that Andrew's lawyers think could absolve him of liability in the case.

Instead, the 40-minute telephone hearing before U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in Manhattan focused on process serving and the relevant rules in America and the United Kingdom, and whether those rules were met when a process server left a copy of the lawsuit at the front gate of Andrew's Windsor residence last month.

No immediate decision was made: Kaplan gave the parties several deadlines to make their case about whether or not Andrew was properly served, and whether officials at the English high court need to weigh in on the question. Kaplan set another hearing on the issue for Oct.13.

Prince Andrew at the Royal Chapel of All Saints at Royal Lodge on the Windsor Castle estate, on April 11, 2021, a few days after his father, Prince Philip, died.
Prince Andrew at the Royal Chapel of All Saints at Royal Lodge on the Windsor Castle estate, on April 11, 2021, a few days after his father, Prince Philip, died.

Neither the Duke of York, 61, nor any of his London lawyers participated in the hearing, the first proceeding scheduled since the plaintiff, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, 38, filed her lawsuit last month.

So far, Andrew and his British lawyers have refused to respond to the lawsuit.

But in a last minute surprise, they sent in a high-powered litigator, Andrew Brettler of Los Angeles, to make a "special appearance" on the prince's behalf for the purpose of challenging the process service and the overall validity of the lawsuit, issues Brettler argued are related.

In her suit, Giuffre reiterated accusations she's publicly made against Andrew since January 2015: She accuses him of rape and sexual assault, claiming she was sex-trafficked to him in 2001 at age 17 by Andrew's former friend, the late convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, and that the prince knew it at the time.

Andrew has vehemently denied all her accusations.

Attorney David Boies in Washington in 2014.
Attorney David Boies in Washington in 2014.

Prince Andrew's lawyers seek release of sealed 2009 settlement

Brettler told the judge that the prince contests the validity of the service under U.K. law and the Hague Convention, which governs such matters in international cases. But he also questioned the "propriety" of the lawsuit in general.

"It's a baseless, non-viable, potentially unlawful lawsuit filed against the duke," Brettler said. He said there is a settlement agreement in a different matter involving Giuffre that "releases the duke and others from any and all potential liability."

In 2009, Giuffre and Epstein reached a confidential settlement in a lawsuit she filed against him, which has been sealed ever since. Last month, according to documents on file in federal court, Giuffre dropped her claim of sexual battery she made in a separate lawsuit against lawyer Alan Dershowitz, who formerly represented Epstein, after Dershowitz invoked this part of the 2009 settlement agreement.

But the judge interrupted Brettler before he could launch into his argument, saying this hearing was not intended for that discussion, and was focused only on the service issue. Later, after Brettler again brought up the sealed settlement issue, Kaplan batted it away, even as he said he understood Brettler's position.

"If there is a document that would provide your client with an affirmative defense to a claim, or help him out in England or both, you'd rather see it sooner rather than later. There's a lot to be said for that point of view," Kaplan said.

Virginia Giuffre, center, who says she was trafficked by sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, sued Prince Andrew saying he sexually assaulted her when she was 17.
Virginia Giuffre, center, who says she was trafficked by sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, sued Prince Andrew saying he sexually assaulted her when she was 17.

But he added there is also a lot to be said for the position of Giuffre's lawyer, David Boies, about dealing with the service issue first before delving into "discovery" matters. Kaplan noted there is a "high degree of certainty" that Andrew can be effectively served "sooner or later."

"This is the swiftest way to get to the substance (of the case)," Kaplan said. "You two need to talk about that (because) I can see lot of legal fees and time being spent in delay and ultimately that would not be productive for anyone."

As for releasing the settlement agreement, Kaplan said that would be up to a different federal judge.

In fact, Dershowitz is seeking the permission of U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska, who is presiding in his lawsuit with Giuffre, to release the relevant portions of the settlement agreement to Andrew’s lawyers for his defense. Preska has not yet ruled.

Prince Andrew attends Sunday service at the Royal Chapel of All Saints at Royal Lodge, Windsor, following the death announcement of his father, Prince Philip, April 11, 2021.
Prince Andrew attends Sunday service at the Royal Chapel of All Saints at Royal Lodge, Windsor, following the death announcement of his father, Prince Philip, April 11, 2021.

Dershowitz argues that Giuffre's lawyers should have notified Judge Kaplan that she dropped her claim against him before filing a lawsuit against Andrew.

"The same reasons for dismissing the case against me seem to apply to Prince Andrew," Dershowitz said in a statement obtained by USA TODAY. "These documents should get the charges against Prince Andrew thrown out."

The discussion on process serving was anything but gripping, focused on such details as whether or not the Hague Convention trumps Federal Rule 4F3.

Boies contends the service, which took place on Aug. 27 at Andrew's residence at Royal Lodge on the Windsor Castle estate, meets the requirements of English and international law, and Andrew now must respond to the lawsuit.

"There are two methods (of service) in England and Wales and that is to deliver the (lawsuit) to the last known address and send by Royal Mail, both of which we have done," Boies told Kaplan.

Since last week, Andrew has been in the Scottish highlands, staying with his ex-wife, Sarah, Duchess of York, at Balmoral Castle, the 50,000-acre estate where his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, usually spends about two months in late summer and early fall.

So far, Andrew and his lawyers at the London firm Blackfords have chosen not to engage with the lawsuit: They haven't responded publicly in any way and neither has Buckingham Palace.

They were not expected to participate in Monday's hearing. To do so might suggest he will engage, and his legal strategy appears to be non-cooperation while taking advantage of the complexities of international law, according to lawyers following the case.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Prince Andrew lawsuit: Judge won't OK release of secret settlement

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