New York (AFP) -
A New York judge will decide 'pretty soon' whether to dismiss a sexual assault lawsuit against Prince Andrew after the royal's lawyers argued Tuesday that he was protected by a settlement that his accuser signed in 2009.
Attorney Andrew Brettler told a court hearing Virginia Giuffre had 'waived her rights' to sue other defendants in relation to alleged sex crimes committed by late disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein.
Judge Lewis Kaplan did not make an immediate ruling but appeared to express skepticism at Andrew's argument, questioning how a third party could enforce an agreement that it didn't know about when it was signed.
'You'll have a decision pretty soon, but I'm not going to define that further,' Kaplan said at the end of an hour of oral arguments.
The hearing in the civil action filed by Giuffre -- also a longtime accuser of Epstein's companion, the convicted sex trafficker Ghislaine Maxwell -- were held via video conference with the public able to listen in by telephone.
Giuffre alleges that Epstein lent her out for sex with his wealthy and powerful associates, including to Andrew, an allegation that Queen Elizabeth II's second son has repeatedly and strenuously denied.
The deal made public for the first time Monday by a New York court showed that Giuffre agreed to drop a civil claim against Epstein for $500,000.
The settlement contained a provision that purports to protect 'other potential defendants' from being sued related to alleged sexual abuse committed by Epstein, who killed himself in jail in 2019.
Brettler described it as 'unambiguous' and argued that it protected the prince from litigation.
'Miss Giuffre intended to release a broad category of individuals, including royalty, including businessmen,' Brettler said.
'She waived her rights to sue them when she entered into the 2009 release agreement and accepted the money from Mr. Epstein.'
But the judge said that neither he nor Brettler could 'find any meaning at all' in the word 'potential.'
Giuffre sued the prince for unspecified damages last year, alleging he sexually assaulted her in 2001 when she was 17 and a minor under American law.
She says Andrew assaulted her at Epstein's home in New York, and on Epstein's private island in the US Virgin Islands.
Giuffre's lawyer David Boies argued that the Epstein-Giuffre agreement was unrelated to Andrew because it was signed in Florida.
'Prince Andrew was not subject to jurisdiction,' he told judge Kaplan.
Pace University law professor Bennett Gershman said he expected Kaplan to reject Andrew's stance.
'Are they saying everybody in the world is now free because of the settlement? It's a tough sell,' he told AFP.
Giuffre alleges Andrew also sexually abused her at the London home of Maxwell, who last week was found guilty of sex trafficking minors for Epstein.
Andrew, 61, has not been criminally charged.
- Maxwell convicted -
Maxwell, who introduced Andrew to Epstein in the early 1990s, faces life behind bars after being convicted by New York jurors on five counts.
Epstein died aged 66 in a Manhattan jail in what New York's coroner ruled was a suicide, after being charged with child sex trafficking.
Back in 2008 he was convicted of paying young girls for sexual massages in Florida but served just 13 months in jail after striking a deal with the then-state prosecutor.
Andrew has rarely been seen in public since he was forced to quit the royal frontline in 2019 for failing to distance himself from Epstein.
In a disastrous interview with the BBC that year, Andrew denied Giuffre's claim that they had shared a sweaty dance at a London nightclub, saying that at the time he could not sweat due to a condition related to having fought in the 1982 Falklands War.
Last week, Giuffre's lawyers demanded Andrew hand over medical records proving that he cannot sweat.
Andrew's legal team has accused Giuffre of seeking to profit from a 'baseless lawsuit.'
If the case proceeds and Giuffre and Andrew don't settle then it could go before a jury trial, likely in the latter half of this year.
On Friday, Kaplan rejected attempts by Andrew's lawyers to halt progression of the suit on the grounds that Giuffre now lives in Australia.