South Florida

Defamation case settled over sex-misconduct accusations against lawyer Alan Dershowitz

An attorney for Alan Dershowitz, a close friend of Jeffrey Epstein, sought to bar the press and public from a portion of the court hearing in New York.
An attorney for Alan Dershowitz, a close friend of Jeffrey Epstein, sought to bar the press and public from a portion of the court hearing in New York. AP

A major law firm representing renowned defense attorney Alan Dershowitz has claimed victory in his defamation case against lawyers who accused him of having sex with an underage South Florida girl more than a decade ago.

“Lawyers acknowledge mistake in filing sexual misconduct charges against Professor Dershowitz,” read the news release headline issued by the Washington, D.C., firm Wiley Rein.

Dershowitz told the Miami Herald over the weekend that the accusation was like a “drive-by shooting.”

But while Dershowitz’s defamation dispute with Fort Lauderdale attorney Bradley Edwards and colleague Paul Cassell was settled last week for an undisclosed sum, the allegation by a woman now in her early 30s is not going away — contrary to the former Harvard law professor’s take.

“It is a mistake for anyone to conclude based upon Mr. Dershowitz’s statements that the case against him was abandoned due to lack of factual support,” said West Palm Beach attorney Jack Scarola, who represents Edwards and Cassell, the lawyers for the woman.

The defamation case erupted last year after their client accused Dershowitz of having sex with her between 1999 and 2002 when the minor was employed by Palm Beach billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, who later pleaded guilty to a state charge of soliciting minors for prostitution.

Edwards and Cassell made the allegation against Dershowitz in late 2014 in a lawsuit filed against the U.S. government. They are seeking to force South Florida federal prosecutors to break an agreement made years earlier not to charge Epstein and others with running an alleged international sex ring — a deal brokered by Epstein’s high-profile defense team, including Dershowitz.

Dershowitz was quoted in news stories published in the Miami Herald and elsewhere that Edwards and Cassell would be “disbarred” for making the “false” allegation against him. Instead, Edwards and Cassell sued Dershowitz for defamation in Broward Circuit Court, and he countersued — leading to last week’s settlement.

The parties’ joint statement on the settlement was murky, leading the Herald to initially post a report that Edwards and Cassell were going to withdraw their client’s sexual misconduct accusation against Dershowitz.

Here’s why: A key section of the statement read: “Edwards and Cassell acknowledge that it was a mistake to have filed sexual misconduct accusations against Dershowitz, and the sexual misconduct accusations made in all public filings (including all exhibits) are hereby withdrawn. Dershowitz also withdraws his accusations that Edwards and Cassell acted unethically.”

In an interview, Dershowitz, who lives in New York City and winters in Miami Beach, told the Herald that Jane Doe No. 3’s accusations in the federal suit would no longer stand the test of truth.

“We were able to demonstrate where I was during the relevant time” between 1999 and 2002, said Dershowitz, who hired former FBI director Louis Freeh to investigate the sexual misconduct allegation. “It just didn’t happen. This is a case where the first time I laid eyes on this woman was in a deposition three months ago.”

Her explosive accusations were added to the federal suit in which two other alleged victims — identified as Jane Doe No. 1 and Jane Doe No. 2 in court records — had sought to use the Crime Victims’ Rights Act to force the U.S. Department of Justice to prosecute Epstein for sex trafficking of children by fraud, among other offenses.

Her attorneys, Edwards and Cassell, said she and other alleged victims had the right to join the suit because they were not notified by federal prosecutors when they cut a then-secret non-prosecution agreement with Dershowitz in September 2007 that immunized not only Epstein but also possible co-conspirators in his alleged sex ring. Instead, the U.S. Attorney’s Office deferred to the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office for criminal charges.

On Monday, their defamation lawyer, Scarola, said the attorneys now acknowledge making a “tactical error” in filing Jane Doe No. 3’s claim, but that they and their client still stand behind the allegation of sexual misconduct against Dershowitz and plan to pursue it in the on-going suit against the U.S. government. There is no individual civil suit against Dershowitz.

The allegations were reported in January 2015 in the Herald in a story written by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.

The story described Epstein as a wealthy Wall Street money manager who traveled the world in circles that included President Bill Clinton and businessman Donald Trump. Epstein owned palatial properties not only in Palm Beach, but also Manhattan, the U.S. Virgin Islands and New Mexico.

That all changed in 2005, when a woman contacted Palm Beach police fearing that Epstein had molested her 14-year-old daughter. The girl told detectives she’d been invited to Epstein’s mansion, where she was paid $300 after stripping to her underwear and massaging Epstein as he masturbated.

Police then located a community college student who gave a sworn statement that she had taken six girls, all between the ages of 14 and 16, to Epstein. In 2008, Epstein pleaded guilty to a single felony charge of soliciting minors for prostitution. Epstein, now 63 and listed on a state registry of sex offenders, served 13 months of an 18-month jail sentence.

After his conviction, Epstein’s story grew even more bizarre, the Herald story reported, with anonymous women accusing him in federal court of conspiring with Ghislaine Maxwell, daughter of the late British media baron Robert Maxwell, to operate an international underage sex ring.

Edwards and Cassell filed their Jane Doe lawsuit against the U.S. government, alleging that Epstein had committed crimes against their clients, including sex trafficking of children by fraud.

Their case initially involved two women, identified as Jane Doe No. 1 and Jane Doe No. 2, who said they were sexually abused by Epstein and trafficked as minors. But in late 2014, Edwards asked to have two new accusers added to the case — identified as Jane Doe No. 3 and Jane Doe No. 4.

Jane Doe No. 3 alleged in the court filing that Maxwell and Epstein kept her as a “sex slave” from 1999 through 2002, when she escaped to an unspecified foreign country. Epstein forced Jane Doe No. 3, who was then a minor, to have sex with politically connected and wealthy people, the court filing alleged.

“Epstein’s purpose in ‘lending’ Jane Doe [along with other young girls] to such powerful people [was] to ingratiate himself with them for business, personal, political and financial gain, as well as to obtain blackmail information,” the filing alleged.

Jane Doe No. 3 identified one of the men she was forced to have sex with as Dershowitz, the former Harvard law professor and famous criminal defense lawyer. In the same filing, she also identified Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, as another alleged offender — an accusation that Buckingham Palace said was “categorically untrue.”

The court filing — already stricken by a federal judge — was withdrawn as part of the settlement reached through mediation by former Broward Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Streitfeld.

Dershowitz claimed that he was defamed by the sexual-misconduct accusation made in the filing, asserting Jane Doe No. 3’s lawyers had not done the “necessary due diligence” beforehand, according to the joint statement of the parties. The lawyers maintained they filed their client’s allegation in “good faith and performed the necessary due diligence.”

The statement further said: “Dershowitz completely denies any such misconduct, while not disputing [Jane Doe No. 3’s] statements that the underlying alleged misconduct may have occurred with someone else.”

“Dershowitz has produced travel and other records for the relevant times which he relies on to establish that he could not have been present when the alleged misconduct occurred. He has also produced other evidence that he relies upon to refute the credibility of the allegations against him.”