Legal efforts to protect the rights of women claiming they were sexually abused as children by the late Jeffrey Epstein hit a new impasse in recent weeks, according to the head of the V.I. Department of Justice. A spokesperson for Attorney General Denise George released a statement late last week offering a glimpse of those efforts.
Along with the statement came a status update, filed March 18 in Superior Court. In the statement George said Justice wants to see the victims’ settlement fund proposed by the St. Thomas law firm representing Epstein’s estate finalized. But the conditions set by executors of the state would deny some victims their legal rights, she said.
Government attorneys challenging the probate are demanding the settlement fund hold enough financial resources to accommodate claimants who file over a period of several years. They want an expert on child sexual abuse to help administer the fund. They also want to eliminate a provision that would force claimants to surrender the right to hold accountable third parties who may have played roles in their abuse.
Those concerns and others were included in a Feb. 10 letter written by George to the law firm representing the estate. When no reply came by Feb. 24, the attorney general said she pursued the matter by setting up talks between the parties.
“The attorney general’s concerns focused on improving the program to protect the victims of Jeffrey Epstein and conform to the laws and public policy of the Virgin Islands,” the March 18 filing said.
When the estate’s lawyers kept silent, Justice then sought out those victims who have already come forward to find out what they would consider fair treatment from settlement fund administrators.
To balance the interests of the estate and those claiming to have suffered sexual abuse, Justice wants to bring in a subject expert to serve alongside the estate’s program administrator. Attempts to establish a role for professor Marci Hamilton have been less than successful, George said.
Hamilton’s involvement was proposed to Justice during discussions with women who have already filed legal claims against the state and their attorneys. The professor is considered an expert on statute of limitations in child sex abuse cases. She also heads a nonprofit called Child USA, which advocates for child sex abuse victims and is a leading researcher on the subject.
The proposal was submitted to the estate, and Justice received a response.
In the status report, George complains that Epstein’s legal representatives would not allow Hamilton to serve as a co-administrator and wanted to limit her role as an advisor in the case.
Chief among those complaints was the estate’s position that the advocate be prevented from speaking to any of those claiming that Epstein abused them when they were minors.
In one case, a claimant says she was sexually abused at the age of 13.
As a concession, the attorney general said claimants and Justice would consider modifying the role they wanted Hamilton to play but were not willing to have her participation rendered useless. They counter proposed having the advocate weigh in on case-by-case considerations of victim’s claims in the settlement process.
Again, George said, the executors seemed unwilling to compromise.
“She would not be permitted to share any concerns about the program with individual victims, their counsel, the attorney general or even the Court. In essence, professor Hamilton would receive two telephone calls a month from the administrator and she would be told whatever the administrator chooses to share. Why does the estate not want to allow her to review the files, participate in meetings with victims and provide her thoughts, suggestions and opinions?
“Why does the estate not want to use the expertise and knowledge professor Hamilton is willing to share?” George said.
Since then, representatives of the estate have expressed their views in an article published over the weekend in the New York Post. The March 20 article quotes statements by attorney Matthew Aaronson in a legal brief filed in Manhattan Surrogate Court.
Aaronson said the estate wants to see a lawsuit citing provisions of the Child Victims Act dismissed because six of nine claimants were over age 18 when they had their sexual encounters with Epstein.
The remaining claimants said they were abused over a time frame of 13 to 35 years ago, predating the law cited in the legal claims.