Lawyers for Prince Andrew argued in a New York court on Monday that the British royal has not yet been properly served with documents related to a lawsuit alleging sexual assault.
At a pre-trial hearing in the US district court for the southern district of New York, Andrew B Brettler, representing the Duke of York, also alleged that the prince may be protected from the lawsuit by a “secret settlement agreement” which has previously been sealed by a court.
Virginia Roberts Giuffre has filed a civil lawsuit against the prince. She alleges she was forced to have sex with the royal when she was 17 years old, which the prince denies.
The hearing, which was conducted by telephone, mostly focused on whether Andrew had been properly served notice of the case against him, and what action the court needs to take to ensure the legal papers reach him.
David Boies, representing Ms Giuffre, said the complaint had been “delivered to the last known address of the defendant”. He added that the documents had also been sent “by Royal Mail”.
Mr Brettler contended that the documents had not been properly served, and raised the existence of a settlement agreement, which he said is relevant to Ms Giuffre’s lawsuit.
The attorney asked that the agreement be released by Ms Giuffre’s lawyers, to determine “whether it does in fact release the duke from any and all liability, as we suspect it does, and it has other individuals in the same situation as the prince”.
“We believe this is a baseless, unviable and potentially unlawful lawsuit that the plaintiff has filed against the duke,” Mr Brettler said.
“There has been a settlement agreement that the plaintiff has entered into in a prior action that release the prince and others from any and all potential liability.”
Mr Boies disputed that interpretation, telling the court: “That simply is not a fair characterisation of what has happened.”
US district judge Lewis Kaplan said there was an application under way to unseal the agreement.
Ms Giuffre’s lawyers claim the legal papers were handed over to a Metropolitan police officer on duty at the main gates of prince Andrew’s Windsor Great Park home on August 27th.
The prince has repeatedly denied the allegations in the lawsuit brought by Ms Giuffre, a longtime accuser of the late convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
When the suit was filed last month, legal experts suggested it left the prince with no good options as he seeks to repair his image and return to public life. If he tries to ignore the lawsuit, he runs the risk that the court could find him in default and order him to pay damages. If he decides to fight, he potentially faces years of unwelcome headlines as the case winds its way through court.
It was announced on Monday morning that the prince’s team had hired Mr Brettler, who works at the entertainment litigation law firm Lavely and Singer. Mr Brettler has previously represented Bill Cosby and the actor Armie Hammer, who has been accused of rape. Mr Hammer denies the claims.
Mr Boies, Ms Guiffre’s attorney, previously said in court documents that it was implausible that the prince was unaware of the suit. “Attorneys at Blackfords, who he has apparently instructed to evade and contest service, have confirmed that the prince himself already has notice of this lawsuit and is evaluating his chances of success,” Mr Boies wrote.
Even if Blackfords had not confirmed as much, any other conclusion would be “implausible”, Mr Boies wrote, given “reputable media outlets around the world reported on the filing of plaintiff’s complaint, and hundreds, if not thousands, of articles about this lawsuit have been published.”
The prince is understood to be at Balmoral, Queen Elizabeth’s Scottish estate, where he held a shooting party at the weekend.
On August 26th, a corporate investigator named Cesar Sepulveda travelled to Windsor and tried and failed to serve the court papers at Royal Lodge, the prince’s home, after police were unable to locate a senior member of the prince’s staff, according to reports. The following day, the documents were reportedly left with police at the property.
A copy of the summons and the complaint were also reportedly emailed to the prince’s royal household office email address, and to his lawyers by email and FedEx, as well as sent to his home by first class post.
Mr Kaplan directed Mr Boies to propose alternative means to serve Andrew, and rejected Mr Bretter’s argument that Hague convention procedures had to be “exhausted” before applying US procedures. The next conference was scheduled for October 13th. –Guardian