A New York City federal judge ordered an "expedited" private review of sealed files from an earlier lawsuit related to Jeffrey Epstein in response to a news organization's effort to see the thousands of pages that remain hidden despite the wealthy financier's death.
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Once the documents are reviewed and categorized, Judge Loretta Preska said she would be able to decide which ones could be unsealed.
"This will not be easy," the judge said during a brief hearing Wednesday morning.
In 2018, the Miami Herald petitioned to unseal all the documents connected with the defamation lawsuit filed in 2015 by Virginia Roberts Giuffre against Ghislaine Maxwell, Epstein's former companion. A three-judge panel on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that many of the sealed documents should not have been sealed without proper arguments from the parties.
Among the sealed documents are 50 pending motions that were not answered, including those regarding 29 depositions. One person deposed mentioned an address book that has "probably thousands of names" that may not have ties to the underlying allegations, said Jeff Pagliuca, Maxwell's attorney.
Giuffre accused Maxwell of recruiting her as a teenager to have sex with Epstein and Epstein's prominent associates, which include Prince Andrew of Great Britain. Maxwell denied the allegations, and the prince issued a statement denying knowledge of Epstein's crimes.
The lawsuit settled before it was slated to go to trial in 2017.
Pagliuca suggested to Preska that the documents could get split into three categories: judicial, non-judicial and negligible judicial.
On Aug. 10, the day after more than 2,000 pages were unsealed, Epstein killed himself inside his New York City jail cell. He had been facing sex trafficking charges.
Lawyers for a "John Doe" submitted a seven-page letter on his behalf on Tuesday expressing their concerns about the potential unsealing.
"Unsealing references to non-parties would throw those non-parties into the middle of this frenzy, and unfairly do irreparable harm to their privacy and reputational interests," wrote attorneys Nicholas Lewin and Paul Krieger.
"Non-parties whose names become associated with misconduct can suffer the 'unfairness of being stigmatized from sensationalized and potentially out-of-context insinuations of wrongdoing' utterly bereft of any opportunity to respond," according to the letter that suggested the documents should get placed into two categories instead of three.
Epstein, a convicted sex offender, was arrested in July for allegations of sex trafficking involving several minors in New York and Florida.
In 2008, Epstein pleaded guilty in Florida for soliciting a prostitute and procuring an underage girl. Maxwell is a well-known socialite who has been accused of helping Epstein find and exploit young women.