The Duke of York’s legal strategy has changed completely after his newly appointed American lawyer intervened, The Telegraph understands.
Prince Andrew’s London-based legal team had planned to “stonewall” proceedings in the sexual assault civil case and had no intention of taking part in Monday evening’s pre-trial hearing before a New York federal judge.
However, when high-profile Hollywood lawyer Andrew Brettler was hired as lead counsel, he warned it would do them no favours to ignore the judge’s order, forcing a change of tack.
Mr Brettler has represented a string of celebrities facing sexual assault charges, including actor Armie Hammer, who is accused of rape and of expressing cannibalistic fantasies in messages to women.
In May, he spoke out against the MeToo movement, suggesting there was an “assumption of wrongdoing just based on an accusation, even an anonymous one”.
Mr Brettler was instructed by the Duke about a fortnight ago, but his involvement in the case had been kept a tightly guarded secret to ensure lawyers representing his accuser, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, could not serve him with the lawsuit.
However, he made himself known to the court just hours before Monday evening’s hearing, having persuaded the UK legal team to engage with proceedings.
Ms Giuffre, who claims she was forced to have sex with the Duke three times when she was aged 17 in New York, London and the US Virgin islands, is suing him for undisclosed damages.
Mr Brettler forcefully rejected her claim, which he dismissed as “baseless”, and insisted that the Duke had not been correctly served. He also asked for a copy of a “secret settlement agreement” Ms Giuffre made with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein in 2009, in which she allegedly vowed not to take further action against the financier or his associates.
The agreement, which remains sealed, is said to have prompted the dismissal, by consent, last month of Ms Giuffre’s high-profile civil claim against Alan Dershowitz, Epstein’s former lawyer.
Watch: Prince Andrew - Sexual assault allegations 'baseless', Duke of York's lawyer says in hearing
Request for ‘secret settlement agreement’
Mr Dershowitz has now asked the judge in that case, Loretta Preska, to make the settlement available to the Duke’s lawyers, believing it will also release him from potential liability.
However, David Boies, for Ms Giuffre, this week wrote to Ms Preska himself, urging her not to disclose the material.
“The court should deny Dershowitz’s request,” he wrote, adding that if the Duke wanted access to the document, he should apply through Lewis Kaplan, the judge in his own case.
He said there was “no evidence” that the agreement was ever intended to include the Duke.
Mr Boies told Mr Kaplan during the pre-trial conference that the Duke’s legal team should not be seeking disclosure of the agreement until he “makes an appearance” in the case.
For their part, the Duke’s lawyers are understood to remain confident that the 2009 agreement will allow them to strike out Ms Giuffre’s claim.
Lisa Bloom, who represented eight of Epstein’s victims and settled five of their claims, was not so sure.
“I think the case is going to proceed,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “I think Prince Andrew is trying to dodge and hide and duck service, which is not a good look for him.”
Ms Bloom said that when wealthy, high-profile people were accused of sexual abuse, such behaviour was common, but that their cases always moved forward.
She said when the Duke’s case did get going, she expected Ms Giuffre’s lawyers to embark on an “aggressive” course of discovery, subpoenaing calendars, diaries and logbooks to ascertain the Duke’s whereabouts on the three occasions she claims he assaulted her.
She said witness depositions, including the Duke’s, would be taken under oath.
A UK court would enforce a cooperation agreement between the US and the UK, she said, insisting that “eventually”, witnesses and people who were sued need to comply. “It’s just a matter of time,” she said. “We have a court system and no one is above the law.”
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