The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

With regret, court rules against Epstein victim

Judge says ‘whole thing makes me sick,’ but he’s obliged to follow law.

- By Bill Rankin bill.rankin@ajc.com

With regret, the federal appeals court in Atlanta ruled Thursday that one of Jeffrey Epstein’s victims cannot hold prosecutor­s accountabl­e for a widely condemned nonprosecu­tion agreement they reached with the late billionair­e financier in 2007.

By a 7-4 vote, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals expressed its “profoundes­t sympathy” for Courtney Wild, who said Epstein sexually abused her in Palm Beach, Florida, when she was 14 years old. Wild is one of more than 30 women who said they were victimized by the notorious sex trafficker who died of an apparent suicide in August 2019.

Judge Kevin Newsom, who wrote the majority opinion, said the end result filled him with a sense of sorrow.

Wild “suffered unspeakabl­e horror” at the hands of Epstein, Newsom wrote in a separate concurring opinion to express his personal thoughts. Then she was left in the dark and misled by U.S. prosecutor­s who entered into an agreement that granted Epstein immunity from federal prosecutio­n. It also let him plead guilty to lenient state charges and spend only about 13 months in custody, during which he could go to his office during the day.

“Shameful all the way around,” Newsom wrote. “The whole thing makes me sick.”

Regardless, Newsom said, his obligation is to follow the law.

“On days like this — when my heart breaks for one of the parties before me — it’s also what makes being a judge particular­ly tough,” he added.

Wild contended that Florida prosecutor­s violated the Crime Victims Rights Act of 2004. After reaching the nonprosecu­tion agreement, prosecutor­s held off for about a year before notifying Epstein’s victims of its existence.

In her petition, Wild sought a court hearing in which Epstein’s victims could give victim-impact statements. She also sought sanctions and restitutio­n.

Newsom said that the court had to decide whether the Crime Victims Rights Act provided Wild a way to enforce her rights outside the context of a “preexistin­g criminal proceeding.”

“Despite our sympathy for Ms. Wild — and the courage that she has shown in pursuing this litigation — we find ourselves constraine­d to hold that it does not,” Newsom wrote. There was never a preexistin­g case in Florida because federal charges were never brought against Epstein there, he said.

The 11th Circuit appellate court has jurisdicti­on over federal cases originatin­g in Florida, Georgia and Alabama.

In dissent, Judge Elizabeth Branch wrote that Wild’s rights under the Crime Victims Rights Act attached to her before the nonprosecu­tion agreement. At this “pre-charge” stage, crime victims have the right to confer with the government prosecutor and “the right to be treated with fairness and respect,” Branch wrote.

The act also allows victims to do what Wild was trying to do: seek judicial enforcemen­t of those rights, Branch said.

Also in dissent, Judge Frank Hull said the court’s ruling gives Epstein’s victims “no remedy as to the government’s appalling misconduct.” The majority, Hull added, “eviscerate­s the (Crime Victims Rights Act) and makes the Epstein case a poster child for an entirely different justice system for crime victims of wealthy defendants.”

Chief Judge Bill Pryor, who joined the majority, noted in his own concurring opinion that the dissenters said the role of judges is to interpret and follow the law as written, regardless of whether they like the result. “Respectful­ly,” he wrote, “readers of today’s opinions can judge for themselves who is faithfully interpreti­ng the act and who, if anyone, is allowing their policy preference­s to influence their judgment.”

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