Judge: Release of Epstein Records Will Have to Wait

TALLAHASSEE — Hours after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill to allow the release of grand jury testimony about the late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, a Palm Beach County circuit judge Thursday denied a public records request for the documents — but laid out a blueprint for how the information could be available after the new law takes effect July 1.

The bill, which lawmakers passed this month, is aimed at making available records presented to a Palm Beach County grand jury in 2006 about an investigation into Epstein, a wealthy financier who allegedly sexually abused young women at his Palm Beach mansion. Through a deal approved by prosecutors in 2007, Epstein sidestepped federal charges and agreed to plead guilty to two state prostitution charges, including procuring a minor for sex.

The Palm Beach Post’s parent company, CA Florida Holdings LLC, in 2019 filed a lawsuit against Palm Beach County officials seeking access to evidence, testimony and reports presented to the grand jury.

The new law, signed Thursday morning by DeSantis at the Palm Beach police department, expands an exception to a prohibition on the disclosure of testimony or evidence received by grand juries.

An order issued later Thursday by Circuit Judge Luis Delgado denied the Post’s records request, but detailed how he could reconsider the issue after the new law formally takes effect this summer.

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The records request “involves a matter of public interest” in a number of ways, Delgado wrote in a five-page order.

“The criminal prosecutions of the most infamous pedophile in American history began in Palm Beach County — with much controversy. For almost 20 years, the story of how Jeffrey Epstein victimized some of Palm Beach County’s most vulnerable has been the subject of much outrage and has at times diminished the public perception of the criminal justice system. On or after July 1, 2024, the Court will entertain a motion for reconsideration as to how to weigh this as a factor,” the order said.

The judge also noted that “Epstein is indeed infamous and is widely reported to have cavorted with politicians, billionaires, and even British Royalty. It is understandable that given those reports the public has a great curiosity about what was widely reported by news agency (sic) as ‘special treatment’ regarding his prosecution. This matter is clearly the subject of public interest.”

Grand jury testimony “concerns activity ranging from grossly unacceptable to criminal — all of it sexually deviant and disgusting,” Delgado wrote, adding that he would “entertain a motion for reconsideration as to how to weigh this as a factor” on or after July 1.

During Thursday’s bill-signing ceremony, DeSantis said providing the records “is not a huge undertaking” and should not take long.

“So I don’t think it should take forever and a day. I think the legal hurdles will be cleared. And look, when you’re dealing with grand-jury material, there’s a lot of sensitivity with that, even for the custodian of it. … Well, now we’ve cleared the road for this, so this should be something that happens very quickly, and hopefully, we get more answers,” DeSantis, an attorney, said.

A woman who accompanied DeSantis at Thursday’s event, identified as an Epstein victim named “Haley,” asked DeSantis whether “any information in those documents” would be filtered or if they would be released “as is, protecting the victims.”

DeSantis said it is possible that “a judge could order certain things redacted” but that the new law “is structured in a way where that’s disfavored. … But I think, by and large, it’s erring on the side of disclosure.”

Delgado’s ruling gave a variety of reasons for denying the records request under current law, saying he and two previous judges on the case had to weigh factors to determine whether releasing the records “would further justice.”

“The release of the records will not further justice as our law currently prescribes,” the judge wrote.

Delgado pointed to legal precedents establishing standards that courts must consider when determining whether to release grand-jury documents.

“It is clear there is no nexus between those findings and furthering justice. This court cannot weigh those factors in a way that ‘will further justice,’” he wrote.

As an example of factors that Delgado weighed in evaluating the Post’s request, the judge said courts must consider the reason the disclosure is being sought.

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“This is sought to ‘further justice’ but how this furthers justice is thread-bare, disjointed and poorly

articulated. The argument presented is premised on the First Amendment (freedom of the press) and an exception of furthering justice. The courts are not seeking to limit the freedom of the press, but the press is not entitled to any greater access than the public merely because they are the press,” Delgado wrote.

Another issue involved how long ago the grand-jury proceedings took place, which Delgado noted were “remote in time.”

But the time-lapse doesn’t help, according to the judge.

“If anything, after reviewing the material the overwhelming majority of the substance has been previously reported by the media or made the subject of documentaries,” he wrote.

Delgado noted that the request was made by “a newspaper of record in our county” that many people in the region rely on for information. The judge said he will also take that issue into consideration after July 1.

In addition, Delgado said Epstein’s Aug. 10, 2019, death at a New York prison “under controversial and ‘newsworthy’ circumstances’” also “adds to the public interest” and would be another factor the court could consider when the new law takes effect.

Senate bill sponsor Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, said Delgado’s order illustrated why the law needed changes.

“We knew that we had to make the law clear, so the judge would feel comfortable releasing the records if the judge so chooses,” Polsky, an attorney, told The News Service of Florida. “So because the bill becomes effective July 1, the judge’s order makes clear that the plaintiff should seek the materials again after the bill becomes law. And then this way, he would feel like he’s legally allowed to release the record. So I think it just showed why we needed the bill.”

Palm Beach County Clerk of Courts Joe Abruzzo, a former state senator, called the new law “a victory for full transparency in the Jeffrey Epstein case.”

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