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This interview was first published on January 28, 2022, prior to the agreement reached between Prince Andrew and Virginia Roberts Giuffre.
“Deny, deny, deny. Shame, shame, shame – or attempt to shame, I should say.” David Boies, Virginia Giuffre’s New York attorney, shakes his head. The ‘greatest deposition-taker’ in modern American justice has seen a lot of foolish and foolhardy moves over the course of his 50-year career, but the legal papers filed by Prince Andrew on Wednesday – as we sat down for our Zoom interview – genuinely appear to have astounded him.
“This was Maxwell’s playbook and it’s now Prince Andrew’s playbook,” says the 80-year-old, “and blanket denials coupled with attacks on the victim are simply not a very credible defence. Particularly in view of all the evidence we have against him. If we didn’t have the photographs, if we didn’t have other people identifying him, that would be one thing. But as things stand, denying and victim-shaming is not a plausible defence strategy.”
This was the Prince’s belated official response to claims made against him by Virginia Roberts (suing under her married name of Giuffre) five months ago, and his most robust to date. Roberts claims that she was trafficked to him by his friend, paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, and forced to have sex with the Duke on three occasions when she was 17.
And although the damages being claimed are still unspecified, they are estimated to run into millions of pounds.
This week, after years of refusing to assist first a probe into the late Jeffrey Epstein’s sex trafficking allegations, and then investigations into Virginia Giuffre’s accusations, the Queen's ‘favourite’ son finally issued 41 denials, rejecting all allegations of wrongdoing, and stating a further 40 times that he ‘lacks sufficient information to admit or deny’ other claims.
The Duke of York’s official rebuttal comes after a motion to dismiss the case on a legal technicality at the beginning of January was denied, which means Prince Andrew could be forced to take the stand in New York to argue his case in front of jurors. Something his lawyers stated on Wednesday he would welcome: “Prince Andrew hereby demands a trial by jury on all causes of action asserted in the complaint.”
“Well, we’re looking forward to confronting Prince Andrew with his denials and attempts to blame Ms Giuffre for her own abuse, both at the deposition and the trial,” a twinkly eyed Boies tells me from the New York office of the company he founded in 1997, Boies Schiller Flexner, which also has a base in London. “But an unfortunate fact for him is that if you say these things when you’re filing papers, it becomes really hard to sustain that under cross-examination. And when you can’t sustain those broad denials, you’re not just back to ground zero, you’re behind, because you’ve lost your credibility.”
With his tousled salt and pepper hair and lean build, the veteran lawyer may look warm, genial, and like the grandfather of 12 that he is, but Boies is a legal colossus in the US, where he is both a trial attorney and a hired gun for billion-dollar corporations and said to charge up to $2,000 (£1,460) an hour.
In his career, he has secured or won nine economic recoveries for clients over a billion dollars, something most lawyers don’t even do once. He represented Al Gore in the disputed 2000 election, made a name for himself leading the federal government’s successful antitrust case against Microsoft in 2001, racked up win after win defending the likes of IBM and CBS, and paved the way for marriage equality in 2013 by convincing the Supreme Court to eliminate California’s discriminatory Proposition 8, thereby allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry. Even Covid proved no match for Boies, with a recent bout of omicron earlier this month shrugged off as lightly as an unworthy court opponent.
Few top lawyers have an unblemished client record, however, and before representing some of Epstein’s victims Boies also worked with Harvey Weinstein and the (since) convicted fraudster and founder of blood-testing firm Theranos, Elizabeth Holmes.
But nobody will argue that the Illinois-born, Yale-educated lawyer is not “a master of his art”, “an eccentric genius” – as one former boss described him – and perhaps most importantly “the Michelangelo of deposition-taking.” After all, this man is a chess player, he informs me, and “always thinking several moves ahead, always bearing in mind the possible combination of permutations.”
As a gambling man too – Boies has just returned from a long weekend in Vegas – he sees depositions as “a cards on the table moment.” A moment that, he argues, didn’t have to happen, had Prince Andrew played those cards right. And as a lifetime admirer of the Queen, Boies assures me this pains him. “This has got to be any mother’s nightmare. And to have it play out so publicly because of Prince Andrew’s position is particularly unfortunate. Because it must be of a magnitude that is far worse for her.”
In his calm Midwestern tones, he goes on: “But we tried to avoid this, even in the face of his denials and avoidance last year before we brought the lawsuit. We tried to avoid litigation; we suggested a mediation. But to say ‘I never met her’ is so contrary to all the other evidence that’s out there. Evidence that is so strong: testimonies from uninvolved people, photographs, things it’s hard to explain away.”
Boies shakes his head, the chess player in him almost saddened by such a clumsy move. “He could have said: ‘I didn’t know she was underage.’ He could have said: ‘This was an entirely consensual affair.’ There are a number of things he could have said that would have been hard to attack. But this is incomprehensible.”
Should it go to court, Boies says he “doesn’t think we would need” either the Duchess of York or her daughters to testify. “I don’t think Prince Andrew will call them either.” And although he says that conversations the Duke has had with the Queen “could be used, it’s hard to get at those, because he’s probably not going to admit to them, and we’re not going to depose her. So while those conversations are fair game, on a practical level we’re probably not going to get at them.”
We now know that Prince Andrew’s deposition must be done before the July 14 deadline set by the judge. “So it has been agreed that we will go to London to depose him,” says Boies, who after all these months has not yet met him. What is he expecting?
“Somebody who is going to be a little uncomfortable.” To put it mildly. After all, depositions can last up to seven hours, and Boies anticipates this one to last “a day, or probably two.” “But I’m going to try to get him to understand that this is not going to be combative. Obviously, I’m going to ask him a lot of questions. And although some of the questions may be uncomfortable, I’m not going to be aggressive or in any way offensive to him. I’m going to be very respectful.”
I’m curious to know whether for Boies, Prince Andrew’s BBC Newsnight special with Emily Maitlis back in 2019 was a gift? “I will never understand how his advisors could have let him do that interview, which was a series of really relatively soft questions,” he says. “It was not a hard probate interview, yet he came across so poorly. It was mostly his attitude. He showed no remorse. No concern for the victims. And if it gets played to the jury, which I think it probably will be, then it just demonstrates his callousness. As for those photos of him scurrying from castle to castle, trying to avoid the legal process? They just delayed the inevitable and made him look guilty.”
Whatever the outcome of the depositions, and whatever Prince Andrew’s legal team said this week, experts have predicted that he is likely to settle. But Boies is adamant that for Giuffre this isn’t about the money. “What’s important for Virginia is to vindicate herself and the other victims. Not to let someone escape responsibility, just because of their wealth and power. To hold Prince Andrew to account. But how that vindication is accomplished is still open [to discussion],” says Boies, who is now choosing his words carefully.
“I think that we would be unlikely to settle in a situation in which somebody just handed over a cheque. So if Prince Andrew maintains ‘I've never heard of this person’, ‘I don't know who she is’, ‘The photographs are fake’, then I don’t think that we would want to settle on that basis.” He pauses, inclines his head to the left, then to the right. “That said, “if you had a settlement that was large enough to be, in effect, a vindication, then it’s something we would obviously look at.”
The son of a history teacher who moved the family from Illinois to California when Boies was 13, he fell in love with the legal profession after watching Perry Mason on TV. Over the years, he seems to have found himself increasingly drawn to cases with larger issues and overarching legal principles at stake. Whether or not the criticism he endured in the wake of his defence of Elizabeth Holmes and Harvey Weinstein was a factor, it’s hard to say. Although in an interview with the New York Times in 2018 he did concede that “greater due diligence would have led me to decline the representation” of certain clients, he won’t be drawn into regrets today. All he will say is: “What can happen is that you take on clients, and they seem fine, and once you’ve taken them on you have an obligation to represent them. You can’t take it back. But you can look back and wonder whether you should have figured it out ahead of time.”
As a father of six, Boies is constantly spurred on by his children, he says. The lawyer had two children with his first wife and high school sweetheart, Caryl Elwell – David Boies III and Caryl – a set of twins – Jonathan and Christopher – with his second, Judith Daynard, and two more – Mary Regency and Alexander – with his current wife Mary, who is a partner at the firm. He has also known the unbearable pain of losing two of those children. His daughter Caryl died of lung cancer in 2010 at the age of 48, and in 2019, his son Jonathan died of a rare vascular brain condition at age 50. “I’ve been deeply affected not just by those losses, but everything my children have taught me,” he says.
Caryl Boies was also a lawyer at the firm, “and a great champion of individuals and the rights of the vulnerable,” he goes on, “so she was a great inspiration to me. And she would have been happy to see what I’m doing now. Because when you become a parent, when you have daughters and granddaughters, cases like this become personal. This is very personal for me.”
It’s about the bigger issue at stake, a visibly emotional Boies expands as we return to Giuffre, whom he took on pro bono way back in 2014, and the subsequent dealings he had with Ghislaine Maxwell in 2016, when he deposed the socialite convicted in December of recruiting and grooming teenage girls for sexual encounters with Epstein and found her “angry, arrogant and dismissive of these young girls. Showing no regard for them as human beings, entitled to the same respect as anyone else.”
The prevailing attitude at the time was scarcely any better, he insists. “The media, the prosecutors and the courts looked at the young girls involved not as they would look at their own daughters, which is how every young girl should be looked at, but as people who were sort of on the fringes of society: not wealthy, indeed some were poor, and without educational pedigrees. Yet those are exactly the kinds of people most susceptible to abuse. And would they have been ignored had they been people of a different social and economic standing?”
It’s the idea of “entitlement” that both enrages and powers him on now, and “a group of people seeing themselves above the law while they diminish the rights of others.”
“One lesson that I hope people will learn from this case is not to be swayed by wealth, power, glamour and sophistication – at the expense of people who are vulnerable,” he points out. “Because every institution designed to protect the vulnerable failed these women. Everybody refused to pay attention to what was going on, essentially in plain sight. With Epstein, Donald Trump even made jokes about him liking women ‘on the younger side’.”
Not only is victim-blaming “a very dangerous strategy – especially now”, in the wake of Me Too, he concludes, but it’s also ineffective. “Maxwell tried it at her trial and it didn’t work. So for Prince Andrew to double down on that, attacking not only Virginia, but everybody who comes forward to support her, is counterproductive.”
It’s hard to imagine how the toxicity of his professional dealings can be shrugged off at the end of the working day, but Boies clearly manages it. With those mini-breaks to Vegas, where he loves to play craps, by visiting his 900-acre California winery, taking out his 184-foot sailboat, and escaping to his 17-acre Westchester estate, “where I’ll reconnect with the good things in life,” he says with a smile. “I love playing with my grandchildren, going out for a nice dinner and bottle of wine with my wife.” A Château Mouton Rothschild would be his preferred choice, “although I also like a good Californian Opus One,” he adds. “But I also try and focus on the progress made.”
Ask him which career high point he would relive if he could, and Boies doesn’t have to think about his answer. Perhaps because his overturning of California’s ban on same-sex marriage still has people thanking him in the street almost a decade later. “That case was so extraordinarily important to human dignity and justice. And we went through three years of absolutely hateful, disgusting attacks. But witnessing progress, and seeing millions of other people get married? Well, that’s wonderful.”
In the end, Boies strikes you as a fundamentally hopeful kind of guy, and markedly uncynical, which is unexpected. As unexpected as his answer to my last question. Because when I ask whether after all these years he is ever surprised by the depths of human depravity, he widens his eyes – and nods. “Yes! I shouldn’t be. Not after everything I’ve seen. But I am constantly surprised by how one human being can deal with another. How as a species we have this capacity to be enormously loving and supportive of people we identify with, but incredibly dismissive and cruel to people that we don’t see as ‘one of us’. And I hope that never stops surprising me.”