A group of women who say they were sexually abused by Jeffrey Epstein have suffered a setback in their decade-long legal fight over a plea deal that allowed the financier to avoid a lengthy prison term.
A federal judge in West Palm Beach, Florida, ruled that the women were not entitled to compensation from the US Justice Department, even though prosecutors violated their rights by failing to consult them about the 2008 deal to end a federal probe that could have landed Epstein in prison for life.
“In the end they are not receiving much, if any, of the relief they sought,” US District Judge Kenneth Marra wrote.
Paul Cassell, a lawyer for one of the women, said they are considering an appeal.
Several of Epstein’s victims sued the Justice Department in 2008 over their handling of his plea negotiations, in which his victims were purposely kept in the dark by state and federal prosecutors in south Florida.
They kept the legal case alive for years, even after Epstein finished serving his 13-month jail term, paid financial settlements to victims and registered as a sex offender, arguing that prosecutors had violated the federal Crime Victims’ Rights Act.
The drawn-out litigation ultimately fuelled a Miami Herald investigation into the plea negotiations, which in turn led to a new wave of public outrage over perceived favourable treatment for Epstein, who once counted presidents Donald Trump and Bill Clinton as friends.
Federal prosecutors in New York revived the case, arguing they were not bound by the original deal, and charged Epstein with sex trafficking.
Former Miami US attorney Alexander Acosta, who oversaw the plea deal, stepped down as labour secretary amid the renewed scrutiny.
Judge Marra ruled in February that prosecutors had violated the rights of dozens of Epstein accusers by secretly reaching a non-prosecution agreement that allowed Epstein to plead guilty to state charges.
Despite those findings, Judge Marra said in his decision on Monday that the Crime Victims’ Rights Act did not authorise an award of restitution to the women.
He also said they were not entitled to recover lawyers’ fees from the government, or have the original plea bargain thrown out, or to get other things they had asked for, including records related to the investigation and a personal meeting with Mr Acosta.
But he said they could “take solace” in the national attention their lawsuit brought to “the importance of victims in the criminal justice system”.
The civil case “likely played some role”, he said, in the federal sex trafficking charges brought against Epstein this summer.
“It has also resulted in the United States Department of Justice acknowledging its shortcomings in dealing with crime victims, and its promise to better train its prosecutors regarding the rights of victims under the CVRA in the future,” Judge Marra wrote in the 15-page ruling.
Epstein killed himself in August in the federal jail in New York where he was awaiting trial.
US attorney general William Barr has vowed to bring to justice anyone who helped Epstein recruit under-age women for sex acts.