Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, accused in a lawsuit of having sex with a 16-year-old girl nearly 20 years ago, asked a federal judge on Tuesday to throw out her court filing — one that he had publicly asked for and “welcomed’’ as a means to vindicate himself and prove that the woman has been lying.
For years, Dershowitz has battled accusations that he had sex with an underage girl and, separately, with another young woman as part of an alleged sex trafficking operation run by one of his clients, wealthy New York financier Jeffrey Epstein.
Virginia Roberts Giuffre, now 35, claimed in court documents that between 2000 and 2002, she was trafficked by Epstein to have sex with a number of powerful men, including Dershowitz, who was Epstein’s friend and lawyer.
Dershowitz, 80, an outspoken constitutional law expert and frequent TV legal commentator, has aggressively attacked Giuffre and her prominent New York lawyer, David Boies, 78. Dershowitz claims that Giuffre and Boies concocted the story about him as part of an elaborate criminal scheme to extort a financial settlement from Leslie Wexner, the billionaire CEO of The Limited and Victoria’s Secret, who was a friend and client of Epstein’s investment firm.
Earlier this year, Dershowitz gave a series of media interviews, sometimes taunting Giuffre and Boies with his accusations, and daring them to sue him for defamation, saying he would relish the chance to face them in court.
Giuffre accepted the challenge and filed a defamation complaint in April in federal court in the Southern District of New York.
“I welcome this lawsuit because everything in the complaint is false and I will be able to disprove all of this in a court of law,’’ Dershowitz told the Miami Herald in April.
Now Dershowitz appears to have reconsidered — or, some experts say, is simply exercising a brilliant legal maneuver that places him once again in front of TV cameras — where he can continue to mount his legal battle in the court of public opinion.
Giuffre’s attorneys, Boies’ partners Joshua Schiller and Sigrid McCawley, allege in the lawsuit that Dershowitz is still working on behalf of Epstein, whose case has come under renewed federal scrutiny following publication of an investigation by the Miami Herald in November.
The series, “Perversion of Justice,” focused on how the former U.S. attorney in Miami, now Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, brokered a non-prosecution deal giving Epstein, 66, federal immunity, despite overwhelming evidence that Epstein had sexually assaulted dozens of girls. The series mentioned Dershowitz, who represented Epstein during the negotiations; and the story also included Giuffre’s sex allegations against the famed litigator.
Following publication of the Herald investigation, Dershowitz launched what he called “a reprised media tour,’’ calling Giuffre a liar and denouncing Boies on television and on Twitter.
Giuffre contends that Dershowitz’s aggressive public stance in the news media is an effort to help Epstein by intimidating her and other victims to discourage them from coming forward.
Dershowitz, however, said that he is asking the case be dismissed on constitutional grounds — not because he is backing down from the fight. His comments, he explained, are free speech protected under the First Amendment.
“Our motion is designed to protect the free marketplace of ideas to allow people falsely accused, like I have been, to respond fully and I have been teaching and advocating for the First Amendment for decades,’’ Dershowitz said Wednesday.
“There will be a court proceeding where I can fight in the appropriate forum to prove my innocence, but I’m not going to compromise the First Amendment even in my own interest.’’
Schiller called Dershowitz’s latest move a sign of desperation.
“Mr. Dershowitz has repeatedly and loudly said how anxious he was to have a court determine the merits of those charges, but now filing a motion to dismiss, he has demonstrated how false his assertions were. He is running from those charges, but he can’t hide from them,’’ Schiller said in a statement.
One legal expert, however, said Dershowitz appears to know exactly what he is doing.
“This is a tactical decision. He wants high publicity as a method of refuting the claims that were made,’’ said Carl M. Bornstein, a lawyer in private practice and an adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
“He wants this forum and is elevating it to a constitutional dimension. I don’t think he is concerned what the basis for the dismissal is; this is just a counterpunch, he is not retreating at all. ‘’
Dershowitz successfully used a similar strategy years ago when he faced a defamation suit brought against him by lawyers Bradley Edwards and Paul Cassell, who represented several of Epstein’s victims, including Giuffre. In 2014, Edwards and Cassell filed a sworn affidavit by Giuffre outlining her sexual assault allegations against Dershowitz. The affidavit was attached to a larger 2008 federal lawsuit the two lawyers brought against federal prosecutors who handled the Epstein case.
Dershowitz went on a media blitz, demanding that the two lawyers be disbarred for filing an affidavit disparaging him in a case that didn’t involve him.
The case between the lawyers was subsequently settled, and a judge ruled that Giuffre’s affidavit should be removed from the court record.
Dershowitz went back on television to proclaim he was exonerated — when in fact, the settlement had nothing to do with the truth or veracity of Giuffre’s allegations, according to Edwards and Cassell. They received a significant financial settlement in the case, but most of the finer details weren’t made public at the time.
Guiffre alleges in her latest lawsuit, as she has in past court filings, that Dershowitz knew about and participated in a sex trafficking scheme run by Epstein and his former partner, British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell. Dershowitz has said he never met Giuffre or another woman, Sarah Ransome, who has made similar claims against Dershowitz.
Maxwell, 57, has denied all allegations and has never been charged.
Dershowitz has said he can prove that both of his accusers are lying, and he said Boies knows their statements are false. As evidence, he played for reporters a phone conversation between him and Boies, of poor quality, in which Boies seems to acknowledge that his client might be confused or mistaken.
Boies has said the recording was made without his permission, merges multiple calls into one and is deceptively edited.
Dershowitz said the motive for falsely accusing him was to pressure Wexner to pay hush money so that Wexner would not be similarly tarred by Giuffre. But Giuffre has never publicly named Wexner as among those she was directed to have sex with and, in the lawsuit, she said neither she nor her lawyers have ever demanded or received money from Wexner.
Wexner has not responded to the Herald’s efforts to obtain comment on Dershowitz’s allegations.
Meanwhile, Epstein’s fate remains uncertain.
Epstein pleaded guilty in 2008 to two prostitution charges in state court and was sentenced to 18 months in the county jail. He served 13 months, but spent most of his sentence in work release, which allowed him to leave the Palm Beach jail for up to 10 hours a day, six days a week, to go to his office in West Palm Beach.
In February, a federal judge ruled that the non-prosecution agreement Epstein received was illegally brokered by Acosta and other prosecutors in violation of the Crime Victims’ Rights Act. U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth A. Marra said that prosecutors not only concealed the deal from Epstein’s victims in violation of the law, but they deliberately misled them into believing that the case was still being investigated.
On Monday, federal prosecutors in Georgia announced that they would not throw out the deal or reopen the case, a blow to Epstein’s victims who have challenged the disposal of the federal case for more than a decade. The prosecutors, however, said they were willing to hold a hearing so that Epstein’s victim’s can finally have the day in court that they were deprived of a decade ago.