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Judge rejects motion to disqualify JPMorgan law firm tied to prominent Jeffrey Epstein survivor

 
Jeffrey Epstein Appears In Manhattan Federal Court On Sex Trafficking Charges

Then-U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman announces charges against Jeffery Epstein on July 8, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

JPMorgan can continue to be represented by a powerhouse law firm that previously represented an anti-trafficking organization associated with one of Jeffrey Epstein’s prominent survivors, a federal judge ruled.

Late last year, Epstein survivors sued JPMorgan and Deutsche Bank, claiming that they knowingly profited from his sex trafficking scheme. Epstein was a JPMorgan customer between 1998 and 2013, and then, Deutsche picked him up as a client until 2018.

Epstein officially became a convicted sex offender in 2008, and both banks continued to do business with him for years — and allegedly, turned a blind eye to suspicious, yet profitable, transactions.

Senior U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff, a sharp critic of Wall Street, advanced the lawsuits against both banks in late March, and the parties have been sharing evidence for broad discovery, including arranging the deposition of CEO Jamie Dimon. During another deposition, the lead plaintiff suing JPMorgan accused the bank’s former senior executive Jes Staley of sexual assault.

Only several months into the case did the survivors’ attorney Brad Edwards demand the recusal of JPMorgan’s law firm WilmerHale, which is based in Washington, D.C., has 13 offices spread across three continents, and reported more than $1.1 billion in revenue in 2018. In its sprawling practice, it counted a client with a significant history in the Epstein saga: ECPAT-USA, an anti-sex trafficking group that supported Courtney Wild.

In 2021, Wild petitioned the Supreme Court for a ruling that federal prosecutors violated her rights in their Florida settlement with Epstein. WilmerHale didn’t represent Wild directly in that high court battle. Instead, the firm represented ECPAT, which filed an amicus brief in Wild’s support.

On Thursday, Judge Rakoff found that that connection too attenuated to oust the firm.

“Disqualification of JP Morgan’s chosen counsel at this advanced stage of this complex case would be an extraordinary remedy, warranted only if the movants could meet a ‘high standard of proof,'” Rakoff wrote.

The judge noted that neither ECPAT nor Wild joined the disqualification motion.

“That alone likely suffices to warrant denying the motion,” Rakoff wrote.

Even more persuasive to the judge were the sharp differences between the two cases, one of which is over the liabilities of a bank and another about the reach of the Crime Victims’ Rights Act (CVRA).

“The current case is about whether JP Morgan, a bank, is legally liable for its alleged role in supporting Jeffrey Epstein’s sex trafficking venture,” the ruling states. “Key issues in this case include whether JP Morgan knew (or recklessly disregarded) that Epstein ran a sex-trafficking venture, whether JP Morgan willfully failed to file suspicious activity reports about Epstein’s accounts, and various other questions centered on JP Morgan’s conduct. Ms. Wild’s petition for certiorari, by contrast, sought review of the question of whether the CVRA ‘allows crime victims to bring a suit to enforce their right to confer with prosecutors and other CVRA rights before the Government files a federal indictment.”

JPMorgan’s attorney Felicia Ellsworth did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A representative for the survivors declined to comment.

Read the ruling here.

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."