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An elderly federal judge presiding over a key lawsuit relating to financier pedophile Jeffrey Epstein died Sunday (03/25/2019), adding another twist to the drawn-out legal saga and to efforts to unseal still-secret details about the conduct of Epstein, his enablers and one of his accusers.
Manhattan-based U.S. District Court Judge Robert Sweet passed away Sunday at age 96, the court announced. Sweet was appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1978, confirmed that same year and continued to hear and rule on cases through the last few months.
Sweet was assigned to a lawsuit that emerged from the aftermath of Epstein’s controversial plea deal a decade ago, in which he escaped federal charges by pleading guilty to two prostitution-related offenses in state court. Epstein ended up spending 13 months in jail, with daily furloughs that allowed him to work in his office.
Critics have denounced the plea deal and the government official who negotiated it: Alexander Acosta, then the top federal prosecutor in south Florida and now U.S. secretary of Labor. The sentence, critics say, was excessively lenient for a man who faced allegations of procuring dozens of teenage girls for sex acts.
The sex trafficking lawsuit that Sweet oversaw pitted one of Epstein’s alleged victims, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, against a longtime friend of Epstein and heir to a newspaper fortune, Ghislaine Maxwell.
In exchange for financial settlements, Giuffre and many other victims waived their right to sue Epstein. But those waivers did not preclude lawsuits against some others, like Maxwell, who were alleged to have facilitated Epstein’s efforts to hire teenagers to provide massages that often involved sex.
Maxwell denied the allegations but settled the suit on the eve of trial in 2017 after Sweet turned down her lawyers’ motion to shut down the case.