Gov. DeSantis reappoints lawyer who helped secure ‘sweetheart deal’ for Jeffrey Epstein to Judicial Nominating Commission

Safeguarding minors from exposure to sexual content and topics has been part of DeSantis’ stated agenda as Governor.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has reappointed a lawyer who negotiated a “sweetheart” plea deal for Palm Beach billionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein 15 years ago to one of several commissions responsible for nominating judges in Florida.

DeSantis again named Miami Beach lawyer Lilly Ann Sanchez, a shareholder at LS Law Firm, to the Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) of the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Miami-Dade County. He first appointed her to the group July 2, 2019.

Sanchez was part of a quartet of lawyers that included Ken Starr, author of the Starr Report that led to the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton, who defended Epstein against charges of the statutory rape of numerous underage high school girls.

Epstein ultimately pleaded guilty in 2008 to charges of soliciting and trafficking underage girls, serving just 13 months on work release in a private wing of a Palm Beach jail.

Eleven years later, in March 2019, Sanchez and Starr co-wrote a letter to The New York Times defending Epstein’s light sentence. They contended the “number of young women involved in the investigation has been vastly exaggerated” and that Epstein’s time in prison and “enormous monetary settlements relying on his negotiated agreement” entitled him to “finality like every other defendant.”

When the letter was published, it had been years since federal prosecutors had identified 36 underage victims in the case. Epstein was again arrested on July 6, 2019, and indicted by a grand jury for “dozens” of underage girls brought to his mansion for sexual encounters.

He died of an apparent suicide in his jail cell while awaiting trial.

Roughly a year later, it was reported that Sanchez had briefly dated one of the top prosecutors in the 2008 case, Matthew Menchel, when the two worked together at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida — a detail Menchel did not disclose to U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta, who in July 2019 resigned as Secretary of Labor under former President Donald Trump amid questions over his handling of the 2008 case.

Attorneys representing two of Epstein’s teen victims in a lawsuit filed years after the 2008 case said victims were never told of the arrangement his attorneys brokered then with prosecutors. Had the victims been told there was “such a sweetheart plea deal” on the table, attorneys Brad Edwards and Paul Cassell said, the deal may not have occurred.

Safeguarding minors from exposure to sexual content and topics has been part of DeSantis’ ostensible agenda as Governor, particularly in the last two years as he courted national attention while gearing up for a White House run.

In the past two months, the Governor has signed legislation all but banning LGBTQ-inclusive instruction in classrooms, levying severe fines against establishments that admit children to ‘lewd” live events, including drag shows, even if they’re accompanied by parents, and a measure outlawing the public use of restrooms that do not match a person’s sex at birth — a law DeSantis said is necessary to ensure “women’s safety.”

The Governor’s former press secretary, Christina Pushaw, who now works as the “Rapid Response Director” for his presidential campaign, last year suggested that people opposing those measures are “groomers” — a term used to describe people who gradually gain the trust of children to sexually abuse them.

Florida Division of Elections records show LSN Law Firm gave $38,000 to DeSantis through his state campaign account and political committee between July 2021 and March 2022.

She was among 38 JNC appointees the Governor’s office named in a news release Friday. Several others have helped him in his ongoing battle with Disney, which drew DeSantis’ ire last year when the company spoke out against Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law barring public school teachers from discussing gender identity and sexual preference with students.

Atop the list was Tampa attorney Charbel Barakat, whom DeSantis named to the Supreme Court JNC one month after appointing him to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, the Governor’s new state-run governing board for Disney World.

In private life, Barakat — a one-time “Jeopardy!” champion — works as regional counsel to Texas-headquartered D.R. Horton, which last year was the largest homebuilder in the United States with nearly $32.7 billion in gross revenue.

Others included:

—Oviedo lawyer Michael Sasso, who in May resigned from the state’s Disney tourism board. DeSantis reappointed him to the JNC of the 6th District Courts of Appeal.

Jeff Aaron, a shareholder at GrayRobinson, which has earned millions defending the DeSantis administration against legal challenges over laws critics say are discriminatory.

Michael Nardella, the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District’s attorney, whom DeSantis appointed to the 9th Judicial Circuit JNC.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


  • Thomas Kaspar

    July 14, 2023 at 8:35 pm

    Just bought and paid for pedo-centric DNC propaganda . Not news not journalism

  • The Angelic

    July 14, 2023 at 9:22 pm

    Republicans and other child rapers share the same life’s motto:
    If it feels good to me, it IS good;
    no matter whom it hurts, how badly, nor how innocent or defenseless they are.

  • Dan Anderson

    July 14, 2023 at 9:46 pm

    If was His kids or kids of his church friends it would certainly a totally different story. Typical attitude for the born again, bulls+-ters,!

  • Michael K

    July 15, 2023 at 12:09 am

    Pure sleaze. It’s all about the money.

    But give Ron credit for making Florida Number One in America! For inflation!

  • PeterH

    July 15, 2023 at 1:46 am

    Today’s Republican leaders seek the very bottom of the swamp to assist filling their political ambitions.

    • Mr. Haney

      July 15, 2023 at 4:52 am

      Not the swamp, the sewer.

      • My Take

        July 15, 2023 at 1:57 pm

        Right you are!
        That needs pointing out more often.
        (Florida’s swamps are good things.)

  • Dont Say FLA

    July 15, 2023 at 9:54 am

    While I am delighted knock Rhonda given any opportunity, and boy does Rhonda give plenty of opportunities, an attorney whose job it was to get sicko Epstein the best deal possible, if that attorney did that, then that person is a very good attorney and/or very well connected. Those are two strong points for any candidate seeking judicial work.

    That said, Rhonda’s part in this appointment does smell of Rhonda undermining their own claims about drag queens coming for our children. When your whole political platform is about people coming for our children, you probably don’t (re)appoint a defense attorney that’s known for his work with a notorious guy who actually did come for people’s children.

    I suppose it’s just Rhonda shooting themselves in the foot yet again. Rhonda should be more careful. They only have two feet.

    The attorney is just an attorney doing legal work, but Rhonda is a Mo.

  • It’s Complicated

    July 17, 2023 at 8:35 am

    It’s an attorney’s job, irrespective of how despicable a client may be, to get the best ‘deal’ for the client. If you want to point fingers, point at the prosecutor and judge who accepted the deal.

  • Dorine

    July 23, 2023 at 7:15 am

    While one expects a lawyer to fully represent the interested of his or her client, even a scumbag client, one also expects our Governor to vet those he appoints to boards. Maybe this one slipped by, but I would be very interested to find out if any of these appointments either endorsed or contributed to the Governor’s campaign or PAC either during his first term, for his re-election or for his presidential bid.

Comments are closed.


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