NEW YORK — A lawsuit brought against Britain’s Prince Andrew by a woman who says she was trafficked to him by Jeffrey Epstein can go forward, a judge ruled Wednesday, after concluding that a settlement agreement the woman signed in 2009 does not unequivocally free the royal from liability.
Andrew’s defense team argued that the agreement Virginia Giuffre signed as she settled with Epstein for $500,000 shielded the prince and anyone else she might sue in connection to her claims against Epstein, a wealthy and well-connected financier who died by suicide while awaiting trial for sex trafficking in 2019.
U.S. District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan said the agreement was not so clear.
In a 46-page decision, Kaplan wrote that the only factor he had to consider in deciding the prince’s motion to dismiss was whether the agreement could be interpreted in multiple ways. Kaplan wrote that it is “not open to the Court now to decide, as a matter of fact, just what the parties to the release in the 2009 settlement agreement signed by Ms. Giuffre and Mr. Epstein actually meant.”
Kaplan said he had to adhere to Florida law governing the prince’s dismissal motion, because that is the state where Giuffre’s lawsuit and settlement with Epstein were handled. The “controlling interpretation . . . must await further proceedings,” he wrote, adding that the “intentions of Ms. Giuffre and Epstein are anything but clear here, at least at this stage.”
“As a matter of Florida law, this Court cannot rewrite the 2009 Agreement to give the defendant rights where the agreement does not clearly manifest an intent to create them,” the decision says.
An attorney for the prince, who has vehemently denied the allegations in the lawsuit, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Andrew, 61, has not been criminally charged.
In the lawsuit, Giuffre claims that the prince sexually abused in her in multiple encounters, causing lasting trauma and other personal harm. She seeks unspecified monetary damages. Giuffre’s attorney David Boies said her team is “obviously pleased” with the decision and “that evidence will now be taken under oath.”
Should the lawsuit proceed to a trial, it could put Andrew in a position of hearing uncomfortable public testimony about his connection to Epstein and his alleged encounters with Giuffre, both in New York and Britain.
The proceedings could serve as a further source of embarrassment for Britian’s royal family, while also expanding public scrutiny and awareness of one of the celebrities allegedly involved in Epstein’s lavish, sex-focused parties.
Giuffre came into Epstein’s orbit as a teenager, allegedly recruited by his longtime companion Ghislaine Maxwell, 60, who was convicted late last month on sex-trafficking and other counts in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.
Maxwell’s conviction may be in jeopardy, however, after a juror in the case disclosed in media interviews that he was sexually abused as a child and used his experience to help convince other jurors that Maxwell’s accusers were credible. Motions on that issue are expected later this month.
Asked about the ruling in the Prince Andrew lawsuit on Wednesday, a spokeswoman for Buckingham Palace said, “We would not comment on what is an ongoing legal matter.”
Analysts said that Andrew could fight the lawsuit at trial or ignore the case, which would mean a ruling against him. He may also seek an out-of-court settlement.
The case threatens to overshadow Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee — a celebration of the queen’s unprecedented 70 years on the throne. Earlier this week, the palace announced a full lineup of celebratory events that will take place throughout the year.
Andrew stepped back from public life in 2019 after an interview on BBC’s “Newsnight,” which was described as “nuclear explosion level bad.”
Karla Adam in London contributed to this report.