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Florida bills would push to make Epstein grand jury records public

“The public has a right to know,” Rep. Peggy Gossett-Seidman told other lawmakers.
 
In this July 30, 2008, photo, Jeffrey Epstein appears in court in West Palm Beach.
In this July 30, 2008, photo, Jeffrey Epstein appears in court in West Palm Beach.
Published Jan. 26|Updated Jan. 26

A push to reveal the evidence presented nearly 20 years ago to a South Florida grand jury that charged notorious sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein with just one count of solicitation of a prostitute has been resurrected in the Florida Capitol.

Two lawmakers who sought unsuccessfully last year to change the state law that masks grand jury proceedings in secrecy are once again promoting the legislation, hoping that it will convince the courts to release testimony given before the grand jury that in 2006 weighed evidence that Epstein had lured teenage girls to his Palm Beach mansion and sexually abused them.

The effort comes as Judge Luis Delgado — overseeing a lawsuit brought against the Palm Beach County Clerk’s Office by the Palm Beach Post — sorts through records to determine which of them, if any, can be made public.

“The public and victims need to know if the prosecutors steered the jury correctly or away from indicting Epstein on more severe charges,” Rep. Peggy Gossett-Seidman, a Highland Beach Republican, said while presenting the legislation during a Criminal Justice Subcommittee hearing earlier this month. “Florida has a chance to fill the missing chapters of the story.”

The grand jury proceedings in Palm Beach County represent the beginning of how the politically connected Epstein sex-trafficked young girls while using money and connections to shield himself from meaningful criminal liability for years.

Critics of the early prosecution of Epstein question whether the state attorney at the time in Palm Beach County, Barry Krischer, soft-pedaled the case when he chose to present evidence to a grand jury rather than charge Epstein himself. The outcome so dissatisfied the Palm Beach police chief that he brought the case to the FBI.

Under an agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in South Florida, Epstein was allowed to take a plea deal that ultimately sent him to jail for 13 months — much of which he spent in his West Palm Beach office through a work-release program. Years later, following the Miami Herald’s Perversion of Justice series, which detailed lax efforts to hold Epstein to account and the stories of the girls lured into his orbit, federal prosecutors in Manhattan charged him with sex trafficking minors.

He was found dead by hanging in his jail cell a month later. His death was ruled a suicide. His former girlfriend, Ghislaine Maxwell, was found guilty on various charges, including the sex trafficking of a minor, and in 2022 she was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Now, years after his death, new documents related to Epstein’s activities continue to be released as a result of a legal battle by the Herald and its parent company, McClatchy.

“Right to know”

The legislation, including a companion bill sponsored in the Florida Senate by Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, seeks to encourage the release of the 2006 grand jury evidence and testimony by expanding the circumstances under which such records can be made public.

The proposed changes — narrowly tailored to apply only to Epstein’s case — would ease confidentiality in cases where the subject of the grand jury inquiry is deceased, the inquiry is related to criminal or sexual activity with a minor, and the testimony was previously disclosed by a court order.

The legislation argues that all those circumstances should be considered when a judge is determining whether disclosure of grand jury records would be in the interest of “furthering justice.”

“The public has a right to know,” Gossett-Seidman told other lawmakers.

Should the bills pass, they could influence the outcome of the review underway in Palm Beach Circuit Court, where, following an appellate ruling last year, Judge Delgado is going through evidence presented in the Epstein grand jury proceedings. The Fourth District Court of Appeal ordered the judge in May 2023 to decide which documents, if any, can be released, after the lower court initially declined a petition by the Palm Beach Post to make the records public.

Palm Beach County Clerk and Comptroller Joseph Abruzzo, who became a defendant in the lawsuit with the Palm Beach Post after his predecessor Sharon Bock left office, said that there’s a “good chance” that the bill — which his office helped draft — is passed during the current legislative session.

“Hopefully at the end of the day this bill passes and just kind of squashes or puts to rest any argument of why these records should be kept confidential,” Abruzzo said in an interview with the Herald.

“We’re going to continue to fight for these records to be released and hopefully that’s exactly what happens.”