It’s a political and societal irony of great proportion that a child-victims law signed into effect by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo — himself accused by 11 women of unwanted sexual advances, one of whom has just filed a criminal complaint against him — would have any effect on Prince Andrew’s legal status in his dispute with his chief accuser Virginia Roberts Giuffre. But on Valentine’s Day 2019, the governor signed into law the New York Assembly’s far-reaching Child Victims Act, which enhanced the rights of childhood victims of sexual abuse, including a broadening of victims’ rights to file civil suits against their abusers in New York state.
In August 2020, as a result of the pandemic, the New York Assembly drafted and Cuomo signed into law an extension of what’s called the “Look Back Window” to the Child Victims Act. That 2020 legislation increased the time for victims to file civil suits relating to certain historical cases of childhood sexual abuse until August 14, 2021. Which is upon us.
These two pieces of legislation did not go unnoticed in the offices of legendary trial lawyer David Boies, who represents Virginia Roberts Giuffre, nor did they go unnoticed in England. Bottom line: With the August 14 deadline fast approaching, reporters from London’s tabloid Mail on Sunday, who have been assiduous in reporting every minute twist and turn of the matter Andrew faces, rang up Mr. Boies to ask what he thought of his client Ms. Giuffre’s intention to file a suit against Prince Andrew this week.
Noting that the August 14 deadline meant that his client faced the risk of not being able to sue Prince Andrew at all, Boies said to the reporters: “To use a common phrase here in the United States, ‘Time’s up.’”
As we might expect from Mr. Boies, the pithy quote has quite some legal muscle behind it. More pointed and significant for Prince Andrew is the letter Boies acknowledged sending some time back — as of August 6, according to Boies, unanswered — to Andrew’s lawyers. The Boies letter offered Andrew’s legal team the opportunity to enter what is called a tolling agreement, an agreement by both parties in a prospective lawsuit to set aside any time limitations on the prospective suit so that the parties can have time to negotiate a settlement, rather than proceeding — in public — with the suit. In other words, the suit has been in the works for quite some time. In short, what Boies and Giuffre were offering Andrew was an opportunity at a far more discreet solution in the civil matter.
But, as the foot-dragging in generating a response to the Boies letter seems to indicate, Prince Andrew may not see the offer of a tolling agreement in such a positive light. First, Andrew is nothing if not a man with a certain (high) idea of himself, indeed, it was that idea of himself that led him to think he was somehow putting to rest the Giuffre accusations by giving his disastrous interview to the BBC. Nevertheless, Andrew’s denials of ever having met, much less known, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, have been remained staunch.
Ergo, the many prickly disadvantages for the prince can be read thusly: If he, Andrew, enters into a tolling agreement with Roberts Giuffre, he is, by default, admitting that there is at least something worth negotiation in her claim. It lends, from Andrew’s perspective, unwanted substance to Giuffre, and it is precisely that that the prince, in his vehement denials of her charges, has been at pains to deny. In effect, a tolling agreement to negotiate with his accuser also means that he’s walking his fierce denials of her accusations back, thus also lending more impetus to the requests from the criminal prosecutors of the Southern District of New York to “come in” and talk about what he knows of his old friend Epstein’s operation. In a word, negotiations with Virgina Roberts Giuffre opens a host of ugly doors that Andrew would rather keep shut.
Put differently, living up to every scintilla of his reputation as a ferocious litigator, Boies recognized the significance of the August 14 deadline in the look-back window of the Child Victims Act quite some time ago, and made the offer to Andrew’s legal team: We can proceed with the suit, or the negotiation of a settlement.
The threat of civil action has, arguably, come as a surprise to Andrew and his team. His posture to date, and his team’s on-again/off-again negotiations with the Southern District of New York’s federal prosecutors has been geared to fending off any possible criminal prosecution, while appearing to be willing to cooperate, while, also, allowing the prince to sequester quite comfortably among the horses and dogs in the Royal Lodge at Windsor while withdrawing from public life. Like some of the postures in the Sixties floor-game Twister, Andrew’s is quite a complex posture that takes a lot of effort to maintain.
A civil suit, with its promise of depositions (of Andrew) and its attendant public trial, can be a kind of waking nightmare for any respondent. For a British royal, facing the prospect of Virginia Roberts Giuffre on the witness stand and conceivably having an American judge assess financial damages — in this case, if it comes to it, arguably in the many millions — is a lot worse than that. The damage to the Crown and the reputation of the British royal family would be almost incalculable. Further, it would mean that that what we can call the bedroom-minutiae of Andrew’s social life in the Aughts, when this abuse of the then-underaged Virginia Roberts is alleged to have occurred, would be irretrievably exposed. Quite a lot is out there already, in statements from Ms. Giuffre, but under oath, at trial, that detail would be cast in a far weightier, and possibly criminal, light. In this way we can say that Andrew’s general legal circumstance, both civil and criminal, has stripped him of royal status.
In her own depositions in her 2016 civil suit of Andrew’s good friend Ghislaine Maxwell for defamation, Virginia Roberts Giuffre has been quite courageous and excruciatingly forthright in excluding no detail of her many years of abuse by Epstein and Maxwell in the Epstein apparatus. That level of directness is what Andrew faces in court, should Ms. Giuffre choose to file this week. It’s fair to say that Andrew should at least be aware of his vulnerability in this regard. Should he decide to continue to not respond, the suit can, and likely would, proceed without his participation. If he’s found guilty, he will still be liable for damages.
Bottom line: Mr. Boies has succeeded in painting Britain’s most reclusive prince into a corner. In the now somewhat elevated game to save himself and his freedom of movement, it’s Andrew’s move now.