ATLANTA — With regret, the federal appeals court in Atlanta ruled Thursday that one of Jeffrey Epstein’s victims cannot hold prosecutors accountable for a widely condemned nonprosecution agreement they reached with the late billionaire financier in 2007.
By a 7-4 vote, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals expressed its “profoundest sympathy” for Courtney Wild, who said Epstein sexually abused her in Palm Beach, Florida, when she was 14. Wild is one of more than 30 women who said they were victimized by the notorious sex trafficker who died of an apparent suicide in August 2019.
Judge Kevin Newsom, who wrote the majority opinion, said the end result filled him with a sense of sorrow.
Wild “suffered unspeakable horror” at the hands of Epstein, Newsom wrote in a separate concurring opinion to express his personal thoughts. Then she was left in the dark and misled by U.S. prosecutors who entered into an agreement that granted Epstein immunity from federal prosecution. It also let him plead guilty to lenient state charges and spend only about 13 months in custody, during which he could go to his office during the day.
“Shameful all the way around,” Newsom wrote. “The whole thing makes me sick.”
Regardless, Newsom said, his obligation is to follow the law. “On days like this — when my heart breaks for one of the parties before me — it’s also what makes being a judge particularly tough,” he added.
Wild contended that Florida prosecutors violated the Crime Victims Rights Act of 2004. After reaching the non-prosecution agreement, prosecutors held off for about a year before notifying Epstein’s victims of its existence.
In her petition, Wild sought a court hearing in which Epstein’s victims could give victim-impact statements. She also sought sanctions and restitution.
Newsom said that the court had to decide whether the Crime Victims Rights Act provided Wild a way to enforce her rights outside the context of a “preexisting criminal proceeding.”
“Despite our sympathy for Ms. Wild — and the courage that she has shown in pursuing this litigation — we find ourselves constrained to hold that it does not,” Newsom wrote. There was never a preexisting case in Florida because federal charges were never brought against Epstein there, he said.
The 11th Circuit appellate court has jurisdiction over federal cases originating in Florida, Georgia and Alabama.
In dissent, Judge Elizabeth Branch wrote that Wild’s rights under the Crime Victims Rights Act attached to her before the nonprosecution agreement. At this “pre-charge” stage, crime victims have the right to confer with the government prosecutor and “the right to be treated with fairness and respect,” Branch wrote.
The act also allows victims to do what Wild was trying to do: seek judicial enforcement of those rights, Branch said.
Also in dissent, Judge Frank Hull said the court’s ruling gives Epstein’s victims “no remedy as to the government’s appalling misconduct.” The majority, Hull added, “eviscerates the (Crime Victims Rights Act) and makes the Epstein case a poster child for an entirely different justice system for crime victims of wealthy defendants.”
Chief Judge Bill Pryor, who joined the majority, noted in his own concurring opinion that the dissenters said the role of judges is to interpret and follow the law as written, regardless of whether they like the result. “Respectfully,” he wrote, “readers of today’s opinions can judge for themselves who is faithfully interpreting the act and who, if anyone, is allowing their policy preferences to influence their judgment.”