- By Jane Musgrave Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
What promises to be a salacious trial involving convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein appeared to be spinning out of control Thursday as his attorneys fended off allegations that they were trying to use stolen documents to get their billionaire client off the hook.
Despite allegations of wrongdoing against one of Palm Beach County’s most prominent law firms and complex issues involving imprisoned Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Donald Hafele refused Epstein’s request to delay the civil trial that is scheduled to start Tuesday.
“I’m not pleased by the events that have occurred here,” Hafele said at one point during the all-day hearing. Noting that he had already rescheduled the trial once late late year to allow Epstein’s new attorneys to get up to speed, Hafele described the request for yet another delay as unconscionable.
“This case has drawn a significant amount of public interest and has been pending for 3,013 days, as of today,” he said of the lawsuit Epstein originally filed against attorney Bradley Edwards in 2009 and has morphed into a malicious prosecution lawsuit pitting Edwards against Epstein.
Epstein’s attorneys Scott Link and Kara Rockenbach immediately appealed Hafele’s decision to the 4th District Court of Appeal.
In refusing to delay the trial that Epstein is not expected to attend, Hafele also rejected an effort by Epstein’s attorneys to show the jury what they described as newly-discovered evidence. They claimed confidential emails they uncovered proves that Epstein had good reason to sue Edwards over lawsuits Edwards filed against him on behalf of three young women who claimed Epstein paid them for sex when they were as young as 14.
Epstein ultimately dropped his lawsuit against Edwards, who responded by filing a malicious prosecution suit against the 64-year-old part-time Palm Beach resident who spends most of his time on a private island he owns in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Attorney Jack Scarola, who represents Edwards, described the new evidence Link and Rockenbach discovered as “stolen.” He said the evidence — some 27,000 emails that are protected by attorney-client privilege — came from the law offices of Epstein’s former attorney Joseph Ackerman. A federal judge in 2010 ordered Ackerman’s firm, Fowler White Burnett, not to retain the records and threatened to sanction the lawyers if they did, Scarola said.
To allow Epstein to use the confidential memos Edwards wrote to clients, including the teens he represented, is unfathomable, Scarola argued.
Link acknowledged that he discovered the emails on disks that were in boxes he retrieved from Fowler White while preparing for the upcoming trial. Ackerman, he said, didn’t know exactly where the disks came from. Link disputed Scarola’s characterization of the disks as “stolen.”
“How Fowler White got the disks is as clear as mud,” Link said. “It’s not as simple and clear as Mr. Scarola says.”
Ackerman did not respond to Palm Beach Post requests for comment Thursday.
Hafele said the propriety of Fowler White’s actions would be decided later. But, he said, after nine years of litigation, the evidence is hardly new.
“Mr. Ackerman had these documents since Day One,” Hafele said. “Epstein’s own lawyers have been sitting on them since Day One. … If no one got around to looking at Fowler White documents, it’s not my problem.”
Link unsuccessfully argued that the emails are key to Epstein’s defense. “They eviscerate Mr. Edwards’ case,” Rockenbach said.
Saying the discovery of the emails came too late and under too unusual of circumstances, Hafele barred Link and Rockenbach from using them.
The strange lawsuit grew from the ashes of the 2009 implosion of Rothstein’s once-powerful Fort Lauderdale law firm where Edwards worked. Rothstein, who was disbarred and is now serving a 50-year sentence, admitted he ran a $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme by convincing investors he had negotiated multi-million settlements in high-profile cases. The settlements didn’t exist.
The phony settlements included the three lawsuits Edwards filed against Epstein. In the lawsuit against Edwards that he later dropped, Epstein claimed Edwards conspired with Rothstein. Edwards subpoenaedEpstein’s high-profile friends, including now President Donald Trump and former president Bill Clinton, simply to convince investors that the eye-popping settlement amounts were legitimate, Epstein claimed in the lawsuit.
Scarola insists Epstein had no basis for his claims. Epstein paid Edwards three clients a total of $5.5 million to settle the lawsuits. Further, Epstein settled another roughly 30 lawsuits with other young women for undisclosed amounts.
Epstein was required to settle the lawsuits as part of a controversial non-prosecution agreement he inked with federal prosecutors in 2007. Prosecutors agreed to drop their investigation into allegations that Epstein paid minors for sex at his Palm Beach mansion. In exchange, Epstein agreed to plead guilty to state charges of soliciting minors for prostitution and solicitation of prostitution. He served 13 months of an 18-month jail sentence. He also agreed to settle the lawsuits and register as a sex offender for life.