US judge rejects Prince Andrew’s bid to dismiss sex abuse case

The decision clears the way for Virginia Giuffre’s lawsuit against the duke of York to stay on track for a trial that could begin late this year.

Britain's Prince Andrew arrives at ASEAN Business and Investment Summit (ABIS) in Nonthaburi, Thailand
Prince Andrew has denied Virginia Giuffre's accusations that he forced her to have sex more than two decades ago [File: Sakchai Lalit/AP Photo]

A United States judge has rejected a bid by the United Kingdom’s Prince Andrew to dismiss Virginia Giuffre’s lawsuit accusing the duke of York of sexually abusing her when she was 17 and being trafficked by the late financier Jeffrey Epstein.

In a decision made public on Wednesday, New York Judge Lewis Kaplan said in his ruling that the British royal’s motion to dismiss the complaint was “denied in all respects”.

Kaplan in Manhattan said it was premature to consider the prince’s efforts to cast doubt on Giuffre’s accusations, that he battered her and intentionally caused her emotional distress, though he would be allowed to do so at a trial.

Andrew’s lawyers did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment. Buckingham Palace told The Associated Press that it would not comment on the “ongoing legal matter”.

Sigrid McCawley, an attorney for Giuffre, said in a statement that Kaplan’s ruling “is another important step in Virginia’s heroic and determined pursuit of justice as a survivor of sex trafficking”.

Andrew has denied Giuffre’s accusations that he forced her to have sex more than two decades ago at the London home of former Epstein associate Ghislaine Maxwell, and abused her at two other Epstein properties.

The decision clears the way for Giuffre’s case against Andrew to stay on track for a trial that Kaplan has said could begin late this year.

While the prince is not accused of criminal wrongdoing, his ties to Epstein have damaged his reputation and cost him many royal duties.

Prince Andrew’s lawyers had said the lawsuit lacked specificity and was disqualified by a deal she reached in 2009 with lawyers for Jeffrey Epstein.

That settlement of a lawsuit was reached a decade before Epstein killed himself at a Manhattan lockup as he awaited a sex trafficking trial.

But Kaplan said the “muddled” language in Giuffre’s and Epstein’s 2009 settlement suggests that they may have arrived at “something of a middle ground” on whether Andrew or others in similar positions would be shielded from future lawsuits.

Such settlements can restrict plaintiffs from pursuing further litigation, even against third parties.

“We do not know what, if anything, went through the parties’ minds,” Kaplan wrote. “The parties have articulated at least two reasonable interpretations of the critical language. The agreement therefore is ambiguous.”

Al Jazeera’s Gabriel Elizondo reporting from New York City said Prince Andrew is not expected to be at the trial to be held later this year as it is a civil case, not a criminal case.

“In a civil case, the court cannot force someone to show up in court unless they live here in the US,” Elizondo said.

“He does not have diplomatic immunity though – the only people who have diplomatic immunity would be the queen and her immediate household and he does not fall under that. This is a huge setback for the prince and his legal team; they really wanted this to go away, that’s why they were fighting so vigorously in court.

“As for Virginia Giuffre and her legal team, they see this as a huge victory.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies