Silver lining in Epstein saga: New focus on victims' rights

NEW YORK (AP) — The Jeffrey Epstein case has brought national attention to victims' rights, from prosecutors shunning Epstein's accusers more than a decade ago to the same women speaking about their suffering at an extraordinary court hearing last month.

If there was a silver lining to the saga, attorneys for the women said, it was the emphasis on the victims that permeated the most recent proceedings — a night-and-day difference from their treatment the first time Epstein found himself under federal investigation.

That enthusiasm was dampened Monday when a federal judge in Florida denied Epstein's accusers compensation from the U.S. Justice Department, even after ruling that prosecutors violated their rights by failing to consult them about the 2008 plea deal they reached with Epstein.

Lawyers for the women are weighing an appeal, worried not only about precedent, but also the thousands of hours for which they were denied attorneys' fees after 11 years of litigation.

Despite those setbacks, several advocates said, the Epstein case bolstered the national victims' rights movement, an effort that has gained momentum in recent years as more states pass measures guaranteeing victims a voice in criminal proceedings.

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra echoed that sentiment in his ruling Monday, saying Epstein's accusers could take solace "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."

"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," Marra wrote.

Some observers said the Epstein case could have a lasting impact on the treatment of victims at a time when the #MeToo movement has brought a greater focus to restorative justice.

Even after Epstein killed himself in his jail cell last month, U.S. District Judge Richard Berman invited his accusers to read impact statements before he dismissed the indictment, an opportunity their attorneys said would hasten their healing process.

"It was a red-letter day for the victims' rights movement," Paul Cassell, a former federal judge who represents some of Epstein's accusers, said. "It's likely to change the trajectory of some of the lives that were harmed by Epstein and put these events in the rearview mirror."

Jennifer Freeman, a longtime attorney for child sex abuse victims, likened the hearing to the 2018 sentencing in Michigan of disgraced former sports doctor Larry Nassar, in which 156 women read victim-impact statements over seven days.

"This is part of a seismic shift in our culture and our legal system," Freeman said. "It's an enormous step forward."

Not everyone applauded Berman's approach. Bruce Green, a former federal prosecutor in Manhattan, faulted the judge for what he described as a "rare if not unprecedented use of the courtroom" that had more of a dramatic than legal function.

"While many people assume that Epstein is guilty of the crimes alleged in the indictment and worse, our courts and constitution require that we presume him innocent until proven otherwise," Green wrote in an article he co-authored for the New York Law Journal.

The victims' rights movement aims to "restore the balance" between the rights of victims and the accused in the criminal justice system.

Voters in Pennsylvania will decide in November whether to follow Florida, California and eight other states in adopting Marsy's Law, a victims' bill of rights named after a California college student who was stalked and killed in 1983 by an ex-boyfriend.

The law was passed but overturned in Montana and Kentucky. It has met resistance from groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, which warns that a proposed national Victims' Rights Amendment would curtail due process.

"Identifying victims and allowing their interests to be heard before a jury returns a verdict contaminates the deliberation process and runs counter to the idea that all Americans are 'innocent until proven guilty,'" the ACLU says on its website.

In the Epstein case, prosecutors faced withering criticism over a once-secret plea deal that shielded Epstein, and others accused of helping him recruit underage girls, from federal charges and allowed him to spend just 13 months in jail after pleading guilty to state charges.

RELATED: The Jeffrey Epstein case

18 PHOTOS
The Jeffrey Epstein case
See Gallery
The Jeffrey Epstein case
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 08: US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman announces charges against Jeffery Epstein on July 8, 2019 in New York City. Epstein will be charged with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of minors. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 08: US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman announces charges against billionaire financier Jeffery Epstein on July 8, 2019 in New York City. Epstein will be charged with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of minors. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JULY 08: Two of the purported victims of multi-millionaire Jeffrey Epstein, Michelle Licata (L) and Courtney Wild leave a Manhattan court house after a hearing on sex trafficking charges for financier Jeffrey Epstein on July 08, 2019 in New York City. Epstein is charged with having operated a sex trafficking ring in which he sexually abused dozens of underage girls. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 08: Two of Jeffrey Epstein's alleged victims, Michelle Licata (L) and Courtney Wild (R), exit the courthouse after the billionaire financier appeared for a hearing on July 8, 2019 in New York City. According to reports, Epstein will be charged with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of minors. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
In this courtroom artist's sketch, defendant Jeffrey Epstein, center, sits with attorneys Martin Weinberg, left, and Marc Fernich during his arraignment in New York federal court, Monday, July 8, 2019. Epstein pleaded not guilty to federal sex trafficking charges. The 66-year-old is accused of creating and maintaining a network that allowed him to sexually exploit and abuse dozens of underage girls from 2002 to 2005. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)
NEW YORK, US - JULY 08: David Boies, attorney for the alleged sex victims of the US financier Jeffreey Epstein case, delivers a speech to the media outside the United States Federal Court on July 08, 2019 in New York, United States. (Photo by Atilgan Ozdil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 08: A residence belonging to Jeffrey Epstein at East 71st street is seen on the Upper East Side of Manhattan on July 8, 2019 in New York City. According to reports, Epstein is charged with running a sex-trafficking operation out of his opulent mansion. (Photo by Kevin Hagen/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 08: Prosecutors exit the room after US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman announces charges against Jeffery Epstein on July 8, 2019 in New York City. Epstein will be charged with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of minors. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 08: Member of the press listen as US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman announces charges against Jeffery Epstein on July 8, 2019 in New York City. Epstein will be charged with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of minors. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 08: A protest group called "Hot Mess" hold up signs of Jeffrey Epstein and President Donald Trump in front of the Federal courthouse on July 8, 2019 in New York City. According to reports, Epstein will be charged with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of minors. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman speaks during a news conference, in New York, Monday, July 8, 2019. Federal prosecutors announced sex trafficking and conspiracy charges against wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein. Court documents unsealed Monday show Epstein is charged with creating and maintaining a network that allowed him to sexually exploit and abuse dozens of underage girls.(AP Photo/Richard Drew)
In this courtroom sketch, defendant Jeffrey Epstein, second from right, listens along with defense attorneys, from left, Marc Fernich, Michael Miller, and Martin Weinberg as Judge Richard M. Berman denies him bail during a hearing in federal court, Thursday, July 18, 2019 in New York. Judge Berman denied bail for the jailed financier on sex trafficking charges, saying the danger to the community that would result if the jet-setting defendant was free formed the "heart of this decision." (Aggie Kenny via AP)
FILE - This March 28, 2017, file photo, provided by the New York State Sex Offender Registry shows Jeffrey Epstein. A judge denied bail for jailed financier Jeffrey Epstein on sex trafficking charges Thursday, July 18, 2019, saying the danger to the community that would result if the jet-setting defendant was free formed the "heart of this decision." (New York State Sex Offender Registry via AP)
In this courtroom sketch, Judge Richard M. Berman speaking as he denies Jeffrey Epstein bail during a hearing in federal court, Thursday, July 18, 2019 in New York. Judge Berman denied bail for the jailed financier on sex trafficking charges, saying the danger to the community that would result if the jet-setting defendant was free formed the "heart of this decision." (Aggie Kenny via AP)
In this courtroom artist's sketch, defendant Jeffrey Epstein, left, and his attorney Martin Weinberg listen during a bail hearing in federal court, Monday, July 15, 2019 in New York. Epstein's lawyers want him released on house arrest to his Manhattan home while he awaits trial. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)
This courtroom sketch shows Judge Richard Berman as he speaks during the Jeffrey Epstein bail hearing in federal court, Monday July 15, 2019. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)
In this courtroom artist's sketch, defendant Jeffrey Epstein, left, listens as accuser Annie Farmer, second from right, speaks during a bail hearing in federal court, Monday, July 15, 2019 in New York. Farmer says she was 16 when she "had the misfortune" of meeting Epstein and later went to spend time with him in New Mexico. Accuser Courtney Wild, right, said in the hearing that she was abused by the wealthy financier in Palm Beach, Florida, starting at age 14. Epstein's lawyers want him released on house arrest to his Manhattan home while he awaits trial. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)
In this courtroom artist's sketch, defendant Jeffrey Epstein, left, and attorney Reid Weingarten, second from right, listen as attorney Martin Weinberg, right, speaks during a bail hearing in federal court, Monday, July 15, 2019 in New York. Epstein's lawyers have insisted he will not run. They want him released on house arrest to his Manhattan home while he awaits trial. Courtney Wild, third from left, said in the hearing that she was abused by the wealthy financier in Palm Beach, Florida, starting at age 14. She called him a "scary person" and urged detention "for the safety of any other girls" out there. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Alexander Acosta, who oversaw the deal as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, resigned his post as labor secretary this summer amid renewed scrutiny of the agreement.

Epstein accuser Michelle Licata said in a statement filed in federal court that Epstein's initial case "ended without me knowing what was going on."

"I was treated like I did not matter," she said.

This time around, she thanked prosecutors in New York for taking an entirely different approach after charging Epstein in July with conspiracy and sex trafficking. Attorney General William Barr said after Epstein's death that his victims "deserve justice," vowing to prosecute any co-conspirators.

"I was allowed to be a part of the process this time," Licata said in the statement. "It means more to me than you can ever know."

___

Associated Press writer Maryclaire Dale in Philadelphia contributed to this report.

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.