Wait, famed criminal defense attorney Alan Dershowitz is being accused of having sex with underage girls? And Prince Andrew, too? The legal community has been salivating over news that this might be the case, but the procedural posture of all of this is not only equally strange, but equally tantalizing.
As a public service, let us explain just what's going on here.
It Started With Jeffrey Epstein
All of this begins with Jeffrey Epstein, a wealthy investment banker who in 2008 pleaded guilty to one count of soliciting an underage girl for prostitution. He was sentenced to 18 months, served 13 months, and registered as a sex offender.
That same year, two unidentified women claimed federal prosecutors violated the Crime Victims' Rights Act by failing to contact them prior to accepting Epstein's plea agreement. The reason this case is suddenly relevant is that two more women asked to join the action.
One woman -- identified only as Jane Doe No. 3 -- alleged that she was pimped out to multiple powerful men for sex and orgies on Epstein's private island in the Caribbean, though she mentions only Dershowitz and Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, by name. (Other media outlets have linked Epstein to Bill Clinton, among others, but haven't said he had anything to do with underage sex -- because there's no evidence of that. Clinton visited the island occasionally but broke off contact with Epstein after his 2008 conviction.)
The Defamation Game
Dershowitz categorically denied the allegations, claiming that he visited the private island only once, and even then, his family was with him the entire time. He also admitted that he'd flown on one of Epstein's private planes before, but there were no underage girl orgies.
Statements made in a court filing are generally privileged from defamation actions, so even if the claims are false, he has no recourse there. Dershowitz vowed to have Jane Doe's lawyers, Florida attorney Brad Edwards and University of Utah law professor Paul Cassell, disbarred. In a CNN interview, Dershowitz accused them of knowingly lying and acting recklessly, resulting in the lawyers suing him for defamation.
It's not clear why Dershowitz, specifically, was named, of all the possible people who had visited Epstein's private island. There is an actual link between the two in that Dershowitz represented Epstein in the 2008 sex crime case, but Jane Doe's complaint goes even further. She suggests that "Dershowitz helped negotiate an agreement with a provision that provided protection for himself against criminal prosecution in Florida for sexually abusing Jane Doe #3." This provision, the complaint says, is why the plea agreement was kept secret.
Though Dershowitz claims he's the target of "an extortion conspiracy," that doesn't seem quite right. No one's demanding anything of value from him, so if the claims are false, then what's the point? Unless the claims are true.