Legislature passes bill to release Jeffrey Epstein grand jury evidence
Jeffrey Epstein takes his own life; now what?

jeffrey epstein
‘The public and the victims deserve to know.’

Florida lawmakers have approved legislation to finally provide answers for how Jeffrey Epstein secured a “sweetheart deal” that allowed him to continue operating an underage sex-trafficking ring for more than a decade after his first arrest.

The narrowly tailored measure (HB 117) will ease the unsealing of records from 2006, when former Palm Beach State Attorney Barry Krischer referred Epstein’s case to a grand jury rather than pursuing charges himself.

Krischer’s questionable decision ensured that testimony in the case would be kept from the public. And it has been ever since, despite repeated attempts to unseal the case’s records and bring closure to victims, their families and the community — or justice to those who let Epstein get off easy.

“The public and the victims deserve to know if prosecutors steered the jury away from indicting Epstein on more severe charges. There is also a compelling public need to know if the system worked or failed,” said Boca Raton Democratic Sen. Tina Polsky, the bill’s Senate sponsor.

“We understand the sanctity of the grand jury process and the importance of maintaining secrecy of grand jury records to protect both victims and grand jury witness testimony. However, there should be a process to check and balance (the process with) peer review so the public can trust that the system worked.”

Senators voted 37-0 for the bill Wednesday, six days after it passed with unanimous support in the House.

Shortly thereafter, Gov. Ron DeSantis confirmed he will sign the bill once it reaches his desk.

“All files related to Jeffrey Epstein’s criminal activity should be made public,” he said on X. “While the federal government continues to stonewall accountability, I’m glad the Legislature has taken action to release the grand jury material from the Florida state case.

“I will sign the bill into law.”

HB 117 goes into effect July 1.

But the proverbial clock has been ticking for years, according to the bill’s sponsor, Highland Beach Republican Rep. Peggy Gossett-Seidman.

“Last year, two (of Epstein’s) victims committed suicide. Many other victims are suffering in my county and around the world,” she said last week. “Epstein could have been stopped right here in Florida. Instead, he was released to dehumanize girls for another 13 years. We need to know why.”

The bill, which came at the urging of Palm Beach Clerk Joe Abruzzo, is designed specifically to apply to Epstein. It provides the court with a clear path to release records on the 2006 case while retaining full discretion over what is revealed.

It amends Florida Statutes, Section 905.27 by expanding a “furthering of justice” exception to grand jury secrecy to include “furthering a public interest.”

But it comes with several conditions that Epstein’s case uniquely meets, including that the subject of the grand jury inquiry must be dead, the inquiry must have involved crimes or sexual activity with a minor, and that the testimony must have been previously disclosed under a court order.

A court could still limit the disclosure of grand jury records, including redacting documents and testimony.

Palm Beach County police began investigating Epstein in 2005 for sexually abusing minors, including girls attending Lake Worth Middle School and Royal Palm High School. Police asked Krischer to charge Epstein with four felonies, including unlawful sexual activity with a minor and lewd and lascivious molestation, the following year.

Krischer instead referred the case to a grand jury, which determined there was only sufficient evidence to charge Epstein with procuring a child for prostitution and soliciting a prostitute, offenses to which he pleaded guilty in 2008 and served just 13 months in a private prison wing.

Just one of nearly two dozen women and young girls who said they were abused at Epstein’s mansion in Palm Beach testified before the grand jury. Oddly, Assistant State Attorney Lanna Belohlavek undermined that witness, quizzing the 14-year-old girl about “suggestive” posts she made on her Myspace page that Epstein’s lawyer, Alan Dershowitz, shared with Krischer’s Office.

Alex Acosta, then the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, eventually took over the case. But he declined to pursue federal charges. Former President Donald Trump, who employed Dershowitz as a lawyer, later appointed Acosta as U.S. Labor Secretary. Acosta resigned in July 2019 amid renewed scrutiny over the Epstein case.

In 2021, the Palm Beach Post sued the State Attorney and Clerk’s Offices to obtain a court-ordered release of the grand jury testimony. But Judge Donald Hafele ruled against the Post and denied the testimony’s release.

The Post appealed, and a court reversed the 2006 decision last May, ordering Circuit Judge Luis Delgado to review the testimony transcripts and decide if releasing them would further justice.

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.

Epstein died of an apparent suicide in his jail cell while awaiting trial. Twelve of Epstein’s accusers sued the Federal Bureau of Investigation last week, alleging the agency failed to protect them.

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.


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    February 21, 2024 at 5:34 pm

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Comments are closed.


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