EXPLAINER: What’s next in Prince Andrew sex abuse lawsuit?


PTI, Jan 13, 2022, 4:09 PM IST

A judge’s ruling against Prince Andrew in a sexual abuse lawsuit Wednesday was bad news for the British royal. But it doesn’t say much about whether his accuser, Virginia Giuffre, will ultimately prevail in her civil suit, or even substantially increase the likelihood the case will wind up before a jury.

A look at the ruling and where the case stands:

THE RULING

Giuffre sued Andrew last year, saying that the American financier Jeffrey Epstein and his companion, Ghislaine Maxwell, arranged sexual encounters with the prince starting when she was 17.

U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan’s ruling Wednesday in New York didn’t address the truth of those allegations at all. It dealt with narrow legal challenges raised by Andrew’s lawyers, who said the lawsuit should be dismissed now, at an extremely early stage.

They had argued that when Giuffre settled a similar lawsuit against Epstein in 2009 for $500,000, she had signed away her right to sue any other potential defendants. They also questioned the constitutionality of a New York state law that temporarily waived the usual statute of limitations for lawsuits brought by victims of childhood sexual abuse.

The ruling was expected. Kaplan had all but ruled against Andrew last week when he shot down nearly every argument offered by the Duke of York’s lawyers.

WHAT COMES NEXT?

Since the judge’s ruling dealt only with a few preliminary issues, there is a lot more ground to cover before the case gets to trial.

Andrew’s lawyers could appeal the ruling. They will have opportunities to try to get the case dismissed on other grounds.

As the case develops, the two sides must exchange potential evidence — such as emails, text messages and telephone records — and submit to depositions at which lawyers can question potential trial witnesses.

Giuffre has been through many such depositions before in lawsuits against Maxwell and other people, but Andrew has never been questioned about the matter under oath — something he may want to avoid at all costs.

Once the exchange of evidence concludes, defense lawyers often make a new request to toss out the case judging by what they’ve learned. The judge then makes rulings that may help lawyers understand the risks of going to trial.

Before trial, a judge rules on what evidence can be shown to a jury, giving lawyers another opportunity to assess their chances of scoring a victory before a jury.

WILL THE CASE GET THAT FAR?

Maybe not.

Andrew has some incentives to settle the case quickly, rather than let Giuffre’s attorneys seek to question him under oath, which could cause him problems later.

Maxwell’s two 2016 depositions in a lawsuit Giuffre filed against her became the basis of criminal perjury charges that Manhattan federal prosecutors brought against her last year.

She was convicted of sex trafficking and conspiracy late last month but has yet to stand trial for perjury. Prosecutors have agreed to drop the perjury charges if her trafficking case goes to sentencing this year.

Andrew is also likely facing enormous pressure to settle to avoid sensational headlines that damage the reputation of the royal family. The negative headlines generated by the case may be seen as more costly than a settlement.

Any such deal would probably not elicit any admission of guilt or accountability.

THE LIKELY OUTCOME

Absent an outright dismissal, most civil litigation in the U.S. ends in some sort of settlement. Dozens of women, for example, have filed lawsuits against Epstein and onetime movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.

None so far have resulted in a trial.

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