Judge delays, tries to rein in X-rated civil trial of Jeffrey Epstein

What promised to be a salacious trial probing billionaire Jeffrey Epstein’s sexual relationships with underage girls won’t get underway next week as planned.

Citing the many unanswered legal questions that still swirl around the 8-year-old civil lawsuit pitting attorney Bradley Edwards against the 64-year-old Palm Beach convicted sex offender, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Donald Hafele agreed to delay the trial until March.

“Under the circumstances of this unusual and relatively complex case, the court finds that there are simply too many significant, lengthy motions that are pending and need to be heard prior to December 5, 2017, the date that the trial was originally scheduled to commence,” Hafele wrote in an order, granting a motion from Epstein’s new defense team to delay the trial until next year.

During a hearing Wednesday, Hafele made it clear that he doesn’t want the trial to become X-rated. When it comes to “graphic, sexual questions, the likelihood is that I will not allow them into evidence,” Hafele said.

But he acknowledged that his efforts to sanitize the trial will be difficult given that the allegations against Epstein involve lawsuits Edwards filed on behalf of three of dozens of teenage girls who claim they were paid to give the billionaire money manager sexually-charged massages at his Palm Beach mansion.

Further, Hafele said, it is likely jurors will be told about a controversial non-prosecution agreement Epstein negotiated with federal prosecutors. In 2008, he agreed to plead guilty to two state charges — soliciting prostitution and procuring a minor for prostitution — and served roughly 13 months of an 18-month sentence. In exchange, federal prosecutors agreed not to pursue allegations that he had abused dozens of other teenage girls, instead allowing them to file civil lawsuits against Epstein.

Still, Hafele warned Edwards’ attorney, Jack Scarola, that he will limit what evidence can be used against Epstein, who now spends most of his time on his private island in the U.S. Virgin Islands. “I don’t want this to turn into whether Jeffrey Epstein is a serial child molester,” Hafele said.

Scarola agreed he would refrain from describing Epstein as “a billionaire pedophile” or “a convicted child molester.” He said he does intend to call Virginia Roberts Giuffre to testify. In a civil lawsuit, she claimed Epstein turned her into a sex slave at age 15 when she was working at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, years before Donald Trump became president. Epstein flew her around the globe in his private jet filled with various celebrities, including Britain’s Prince Andrew and former President Bill Clinton, she later claimed in a separate lawsuit.

While Trump, Prince Andrew and Clinton are also on Scarola’s witness list, he has said it is doubtful he will call the three powerful men to testify.

Epstein’s new defense team, attorneys Scott Link and Kara Rockenbach, urged Hafele to limit the evidence to Epstein’s relationship with three teenage girls Edwards represented. Epstein paid $5.5 million to settle the lawsuits Edwards filed on behalf of the women, identified in court papers only as L.M., E.W. and Jane Doe, according to revelations Scarola made as part of the lawsuit. Epstein settled other lawsuits with nearly two dozen other women; those amounts remain confidential.

Hafele said evidence about Epstein’s exploitation of other young women is relevant because it helps explain why Edwards and Epstein are still locked in a legal battle.

The lawsuit began in 2009 when Epstein sued Edwards, who worked for Fort Lauderdale attorney Scott Rothstein. Rothstein, now disbarred, is serving a 50-year prison sentence in connection with a $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme in which he sold phony settlements to investors. Epstein claimed Edwards “ginned up” the lawsuits he filed on behalf of the three women to fuel Rothstein’s far-flung scam.

Epstein ultimately dropped the lawsuit against Edwards. Edwards then filed a malicious prosecution lawsuit against Epstein, claiming Epstein sued him to punish him for representing the women. Scarola said Epstein was also angry at Edwards for filing a lawsuit in federal court, seeking to throw out the non-prosecution agreement.

While criminal charges are typically not mentioned in civil lawsuits, this case is different, Hafele said. “If not at the heart, (they) are certainly at the center of the entire case,” he said of the deal Epstein cut with federal and state prosecutors.

Before the trial begins, Hafele will have to decide many thorny questions about what evidence will be presented to the jury. In addition, Epstein’s lawyers have asked Hafele to sanction Scarola for revealing how much Epstein paid Edwards’ three clients. The settlement was supposed to be confidential.

Scarola counters that he was legally obligated to make the settlements public because of questions Epstein’s lawyers asked during the litigation.

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