A case that College of Law Professor Paul Cassell has worked on for more than a decade on behalf of sexual assault victims reached a critical point last year, when multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein was arrested in New York on new charges related sex crimes involving minors. The case then took a shocking turn when Epstein was found dead in his jail cell.
The case didn’t die with Epstein, however.
Cassell, a nationally-renown crime victims’ rights advocate, has represented two victims allegedly abused by Epstein who are continuing their fight for justice.
On Jan.16, he again appeared in court to argue for the Epstein victims in the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. In April the court handed down a disappointing 2-1 decision against one of Cassell’s clients.
That decision was reversed on Aug. 7, when the full court ordered rehearing en banc, allowing Epsteins’ victims to continue to pursue their case.
“This is a huge ruling – setting up a possible argument and en banc decision in the next year,” said Cassell.
The case has had a winding path through the legal system. According to court documents filed by Cassell, between 1999 and 2007, Epstein sexually abused more than 30 minor girls, including two clients he represented, Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2. The FBI investigated the case for violations of federal law.
Ultimately, prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida reached a non-prosecution agreement with Epstein, blocking not only his prosecution for federal sex crimes but also that of certain co-conspirators, in exchange for Epstein’s agreement to plead guilty to two low-level Florida state offenses, Cassell said.
From the time the federal government began investigating Epstein until the time it concluded the non-prosecution agreement, the office never conferred with the victims about the non-prosecution nor told them that such an agreement was under consideration.
When Epstein’s sexual abuse victims became concerned about what was happening in their cases, Cassell and co-counsel on the case filed a lawsuit alleging that the office had violated the victims’ rights under the federal Crime Victims Rights Act (CVRA). The district court ruled in favor that the prosecutors had violated the victims’ rights under the CVRA.
Cassell uses his personal experiences fighting for victims to educate law students to do similar work in the future. He is among faculty members who guide students on cases as part of the law school’s Victims’ Rights Clinic, where law students learn how to be advocates in difficult cases.