A British socialite’s “plain vanilla” denials that she brought disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein a teenage sex slave do not amount to libel, her attorney told a federal judge Thursday.
Virginia Roberts Giuffre says that she fled the country as a teenager to escape Palm Beach billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, an investment manager who spent a year and a half in prison after pleading guilty to a state charge of soliciting a 14-year-old prostitute in June 2008.
Epstein’s attorney Alan Dershowitz worked out a plea deal that helped him duck more federal allegations that his client abused scores of underage girls.
Giuffre claimed in court documents that newspaper heiress Ghislaine Maxwell recruited her and more than 30 other victims into a sex-trafficking ring for “politically connected and financially powerful people.”
British tabloids identified Giuffre as the “Jane Doe 3” who said that she was forced to have sex with Dershowitz and Britain’s Prince Andrew.
On Sept. 21, Giuffre sued Maxwell for telling the press that her allegations have been “shown to be untrue” and are “obvious lies.”
But Maxwell’s attorney Laura A. Menninger, from the Denver-based firm Haddon, Morgan and Foreman, told U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet that vague statements attributed to her client cannot count as defamation.
“There is not even a complete sentence attributed to my client, Ms. Maxwell, ” Menninger noted.
Giuffre’s lawsuit does not say what outlets printed the highlighted snippets of Maxwell’s denials.
The New York Daily News, however, published a video of Maxwell vaguely referring a reporter to the “statement that we made.”
Menninger contended that these remarks were thin gruel for a federal lawsuit.
“In what context were any of these sentence fragments published?” she asked.
Sigrid S. McCawley, from the Fort Lauderdale, Florida office of Boies, Schiller & Flexner, described her client’s case as an “old story” of a young woman summoning the courage to confront her powerful abusers.
“This story may sound hard to believe, but it happened, ” she said.
For McCawley, the short quotations of Maxwell’s printed in the unspecified outlets packed a large punch.
“I see no allegation that can be worse than calling a sexual-abuse victim a liar, ” she said.
The attorney noted that another judge recently allowed one of Bill Cosby’s alleged victims to sue the comedian for a similar remark.
“Virginia has been beaten down many times in her life, but the law of defamation stands, ” she said.
Judge Sweet sat silently throughout the hearing without issuing a ruling.